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We must take into account, however, that the PMOI organisation is not—and certainly was not in the past—an organisation that we would necessarily support as the democratic, legitimate opposition in Iran. There is no
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doubt that it is against the mullahs’ regime, but let us go back to the history of what happened between 1978 and 1981. It was like the falling out between Stalin and Trotsky in the Russian revolution, involving different elements within a revolutionary process who ended up on the wrong side. There are many other Iranians, including people who came out of the monarchist tradition, the social democratic tradition, or the Islamist tradition, who have not been involved in violent activities. Those people would strongly dispute the claim that the PMOI is the sole legitimate opposition to the regime in Tehran. It would be dangerous if this House were perceived to have given support to one political opposition group and, by making this decision today, we will be doing a disservice to many other Iranian democrats, liberals and secular people, as well as to the moderate Islamists and monarchists who oppose the regime in Tehran.

It is not in this country’s interests simply to say that the matter has been resolved. It was clear from the Minister’s remarks that the Government have concerns about this organisation and its future, and I hope that they will report back to us regularly. If there are any indications of a breach of the conditions, of a potential terrorist threat from that organisation, either in this country or abroad, or of fundraising activities for illegitimate purposes, I hope that the Government will review today’s decision.

I do not believe that de-proscribing an organisation means that it has been given a clean bill of health for the future. In the past, the PMOI had admitted to being engaged in activities that we would define as terrorist activities. It is not engaging in such activities today. As the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) pointed out, people change over time. If that organisation is not engaged in terrorist activities today, and does not intend to do so, that is very good. However, we need to be careful that we do not give the impression that we are giving it carte blanche for ever. We need to be sure that any organisation based in this country is involved only in peaceful, democratic activities, and that it is not supporting terrorism in this country or in any other part of the world.

9.9 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) described the Minister’s speech as gracious. I assume that he was being sarcastic, because it was certainly nothing of the sort. It was a disgraceful and churlish speech. When the House considers this terrible matter, it is clear that the Government have behaved appallingly with the Foreign Office saying one thing and the Home Office saying another. The Minister’s position tonight was disgraceful and it is a pity that the Home Secretary did not stay to listen to his speech.

The PMOI has been seeking to bring an end to the terrorist and barbaric regime ruling Iran. More than 120,000 members and supporters of the movement, including boys and girls as young as 12, have been executed by the regime. Mrs. Maryam Rajavi and her supporters should be congratulated on the huge sacrifices they have made on behalf of others.

The Minister cannot possibly dismiss what the Lord Chief Justice said in the Court of Appeal’s judgment of 7 May 2008. I repeat what he said then:

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That is an absolute disgrace. I firmly hope that today the Government have turned a page in their relations with the Iranian regime on the one hand and the Iranian people and their legitimate resistance to that regime on the other.

I hope that the Minister will dissociate himself from the article in today’s edition of The Times, which was written by its deputy political editor, that told us that the Prime Minister

We are told that, apparently

The Government must take immediate steps to ensure that the PMOI is removed from the European Union asset freeze list. The Government must accept that although the UK was a competent authority upon whose decision the EU listed the PMOI, now that that decision has been declared unlawful, the listing of the PMOI in the EU is also unlawful. At the same time, the Government must recognise the National Council of Resistance of Iran, as well as the PMOI, as being the legitimate opposition to the Iranian regime and engage in dialogue with them about the future.

Of course I commend the Prime Minister for his announcement last week that Britain and a few other EU states would be imposing further sanctions on the Iranian regime’s banking, oil and natural gas interests. However, the Government need to go much further. They should adopt a firm policy towards Iran, including blacklisting the revolutionary guard while applying comprehensive sanctions against the regime.

The message to the mullahs in Tehran needs to be very clear: Britain will no longer have anything to do with a mediaeval regime that stones women to death, hangs children in public, exports fundamentalism and terrorism across the middle east, trains, funds and arms terrorists responsible for the killing of innocents in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as coalition troops, and pursues nuclear weapons.

The order is a matter for rejoicing for all those people who want freedom in Iran, and it is a matter of shame for Her Majesty’s Government that it has taken them so long to bring it forward.

9.13 pm

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), particularly when he has given me rather more time than I thought I would get for my speech. It was also a particular honour to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) who has raised this matter more than anyone else in the House. Indeed, he has raised it on countless occasions in order to bring justice and fairness to bear. This victory is his, along with a few others. I am not sure what the 35 of us will be called in future; the “Chicago
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Seven” was an interesting epithet, but we will just take it as one of those victories that was well deserved and long overdue.

It was with some disappointment that I heard my right hon. Friend the Minister say what he said; he could have been more magnanimous. As the hon. Member for Southend, West said, he was somewhat churlish. In a sense, it is surprising that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), speaking from the Conservative Front Bench, had to bail the Government out somewhat by saying, “There must have been some justification. We don’t know what it is, but there must have been something because of the case that those people kept putting across.”

The reality is that the writing had been on the wall for some years and it would have been much better to accept the judgment of POAC rather than going through to the Court of Appeal. The Government would then not have received the admonition of the Lord Chief Justice, whose words were carefully chosen. I do not know what it has all been about. If there was such strong evidence for the proscription, I would have thought we would have heard it by now, but all the evidence has been to the contrary. It has been a question of when, not if, the de-proscription would take place.

I pay tribute to the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Talk about a democratic campaign: we cannot go out of a tube station, attend a political party or go into Central Lobby without being lobbied by those people. That is what we call politics in this country. They have done it democratically. They have lobbied many of us on numerous occasions to get their point of view across. One would have thought that if there was a contrary point of view, one would have heard it and felt threatened in this country by the gestures of the PMOI. One would have thought that one would have heard what was happening in Iran.

I hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) says—one has to consider balance and take account of the fact that when there is a democratic Iran there will not necessarily be one particular party in the ascendancy. We do not know. All I know is that without the PMOI and the NCRI in this country, we would probably have not, in the wider field of things, heard about Natanz and the reprocessing. We owe them an obligation for the fact that they spilled the beans on the Iranian regime to make it absolutely clear that what was going on there was reprehensible, and the rest of the world has followed suit and taken action against the Iranian regime.

We hear today that there is a possibility of even stronger sanctions, but without those who took an enormous personal risk in going inside Iran and saying what was going on in reality, we would not know all that and we do know it. We should acknowledge that and hold up our hands in admiration for those who take such risks.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will say somewhat more magnanimously that the right decision has now been arrived at, notwithstanding the caveats that always have to be put in place. I hope also that he will at least disown the report in today’s edition of The Times. If that is spinning, it is most unhelpful. We may have to be careful that we are not seen to be too much in
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bed with one opposition group, but at the same time we should make it absolutely clear that we do not in any way support the regime in Tehran. If that regime thinks that it can lean on a Government here or a Government elsewhere in the EU, or indeed if it feels that it can get its way in the United States, where the proscription stays in place, that is wrong and it needs to be said that it is wrong.

I am pleased that we have arrived at this decision and sorry that it has taken so long.

Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): I concur with what the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) said about the message that the House and the other place have sent. How does the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) believe that his Government will advance the case at EU level? I have been associated with the NCRI, as he has, and one of the central cases that it has made is the need to lift the ban and the freezing of resources at European level. What does he expect of his Government on that matter?

Mr. Drew: That is a perfectly fair question, dare I say, to turn back to my right hon. Friend the Minister. As a number of speakers have asked, what will now happen with the UK Government’s role in EU terms? Putting words in my right hon. Friend’s mouth, I hope that the Government say that under no circumstances will they carry on with any proscription and that they will say categorically that the de-proscription, which I hope will go through this place unanimously to deliver a clear verdict, should take effect in the EU. That should be our diplomatic position as well as our political position here.

I hope that we have clarity. I hope that we have made a statement in defence of democracy and in defence of an organisation that is clearly, according to those of us who have stood with it, one that has changed its stance. We are now coming forward in supporting that stance.

I hope that the Minister will now see that and say the obvious thing: that the Government have listened and learned and will now recognise that the PMOI, through its political front, the NCRI, has a part to play in a future Iran, and has a part to play through the proper political process.

9.20 pm

Mr. McNulty: First, the Government have always argued that the Secretary of State was entitled to take a cautious approach when considering the PMOI’s application for de-proscription. No one, not least POAC, argues that when the original proscription was made in 2001, it was not a terrorist organisation. Indeed, the POAC judgment says that there were reasonable grounds for the belief of the Secretary of State that the PMOI was “concerned in terrorism” at the date that it was originally proscribed, 29 March 2001.

As I tried to show in my introductory remarks, it is the PMOI’s assertion—we would say—from 2003 onwards that it had forsaken the armed struggle. Versus POAC’s ultimate decision to take that at face value, the Government took the more cautious approach that it was not the case. The notion that we are dealing with some wonderful little gang of democrats who have never raised arms in anger, or taken terrorist action, is erroneous and not the case at all. Our contention was that, given its long and active history of committing acts of terrorism, and its
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failure publicly to renounce terrorism or voluntarily surrender its weapons, it should remain proscribed, on the criteria that it remains involved, or potentially involved, in terrorism, and no more.

Chris Huhne: Has the Minister heard anyone in the House today suggest that the PMOI was a gang of democrats that never lifted an arm in anger? I have not heard that.

Mr. McNulty: It was certainly the assertion of the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) and at least part of the contention of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), as we will be able to see in Hansard. I am terribly sorry if this disappoints, but it is our duty: we will not hesitate to re-proscribe the PMOI if circumstances change and evidence emerges that it is concerned in terrorism. It is not some reckless cat-and-mouse game, but our duty and responsibility under the legislation. That is all there is to it.

To reiterate the point of my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the judgment relates solely to the PMOI and has no direct effect on the proscription of other organisations. We have already strengthened our processes for reviewing the proscription of organisations and dealing with applications for their de-proscription, and will of course consider those again in the light of the judgment.

Bob Russell: Is the Minister giving a clue to how the article appeared in The Times today?

Mr. McNulty: I do not need to give clues; I shall come on to that point.

Our role, job and responsibility is to keep organisations that we feel are involved in terrorism under review. I know of no dealings with the Americans in this regard, but, as hon. Members have said, it is quite proper that the PMOI is listed under EU common position 931, based on a national competent authority decision that we discuss in detail the consequences of the de-proscription order. We will discuss with our European Union partners the implications of the United Kingdom de-proscription in the light of the EU list, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud suggested. I think that that was a perfectly fair point.

All groups under consideration for proscription or de-proscription are kept under review. There is no substance in the story in today’s Times. As I have said on other occasions when we have dealt with proscription orders, I will not be giving the House or, more important, the organisations concerned due notice of whether we are going to proscribe them. I think Members will understand that, given the nature of the circumstances. However, although we do not normally discuss whether groups are being considered for proscription, I can say in response to the Times article that there are currently no plans to proscribe the National Resistance Army of Iran. I can also say that with de-proscription comes a watching brief from the Government, not least because of our position on these matters, churlish or otherwise. We still favour the cautious approach.

Let me say again to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds that if the group resorts to terrorism and the evidence is clear that it meets the statutory test under law and no more, we will consider the case for re-proscription My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) said that the PMOI had been
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given no opportunity to prove that it was not a terrorist organisation, and quoted from a 400-page judgment. Nothing in the law has impeded the PMOI from applying for de-proscription, or any interested party from doing so on its part. Such applications give organisations the opportunity to provide evidence that they are not concerned in terrorism.

Andrew Mackinlay: That was not my point. My point was that the PMOI and related organisations had knocked on the Government’s door and said “Dear British Government, what can we do to demonstrate that we have demilitarised? What would you like us to show you?”, and that their request had received no response. That was my point, and it is a simple one. It is history now, because we are going to pass the motion unanimously, but my right hon. Friend should not try to rewrite history.

Mr. McNulty: It is not the Government’s job to tell a proscribed organisation what it needs to do to be de-proscribed. That is absolute nonsense.

POAC concluded that there was no credible support for the assertion that an agreement had been reached with Iran pursuant to which the PMOI would remain proscribed, still less for the assertion that it would remain proscribed even if the statutory criterion for proscription was not fulfilled. My hon. Friend has thrown around wonderful words like “appeasement” and “reckless”. As ever, he has been very nice and very loud, but very wrong.

I can tell the hon. Member for Southend, West that we shall not be meeting the PMOI, because we do not consider it to be a credible opposition group. We also have no plans to meet members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Nor—if I may deal with another of my hon. Friend’s points—do we agree with the assertion that the PMOI/MEK or the NCRI constitutes the Iranian Government in exile. I repeat that the PMOI’s terrorist acts resulted in the deaths of many Iranian citizens. It fought against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, and we see no evidence of popular support for either organisation.

The judgment turns on our cautious approach. Given the history of the organisation since 2003, we simply do not believe that its intent is entirely passive and peaceful. POAC’s judgment, to which it is entitled, is that the organisation’s assertions that it is no longer involved in terrorism and taking up arms are genuine and that it should therefore be de-proscribed. In the light of that judgment, we presented the order as quickly as we could. I hope that it will be passed unanimously, as forecast by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock—and I do not doubt that Members will rush out of the Chamber and start rewriting history as we speak.

I commend the order to the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and in passing, and not in connection with this very serious matter, I wish you a very happy birthday for what remains of it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.


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