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Lord Donoughue: My Lords, we see the strength of that argument but, until the new system is introduced, it remains a serious offence to smuggle animals into Britain. It is not only an offence, it is also unfair on

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fellow citizens. Therefore I strongly urge people not to smuggle in animals and, on our part, we will do what we can to introduce any new system as soon as possible.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, will the Minister consider making a special case for expedition in relation to guide dogs for the blind, so as to enable blind people to travel to and from this country with guide dogs? Will he also consider a similar priority for other people suffering from a serious disability, such as multiple sclerosis, who depend utterly on their dogs for freedom of movement? Can that be given urgent priority whatever the general position and the general administrative problems?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, the noble Lord has pressed this worthy cause before. I am sympathetic to it. However, I should point out that it is not as simple as might appear to open the scheme to guide dogs. Were it to be open to guide dogs wherever they enter the country the system would have to be in place everywhere. We will look at the possibility of priority or prior entry but it is complicated and may not be possible. However, we will look at it with the same sympathy as that expressed by the noble Lord.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, cannot the noble Lord expedite matters where dogs that are vaccinated in this country and microchipped travel to a rabies-free zone in Europe where they are given annual booster vaccinations certified by a vet, and are examined by a vet and given another booster before being returned to this country? When going to some parts of Europe pets have to have the vaccinations in any case.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, that is a major part of the new system we are contemplating. At the present time it is not the system we inherited and currently operate.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the Kennedy committee would not have made its recommendations if vaccination were not accepted as being absolutely safe and if the technology for electronic identification was not also well proven? Surely in that situation it is not a question of consultation or designing a scheme; it is a question of installing the appropriate technology at ports of entry. Could not the whole job be conducted more expeditiously than appears to be the case?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, we hope to do it as expeditiously as possible. As regards consultation, we stated at the beginning that we would have full consultation with the public and with interested parties. Some interested parties oppose the direction in which we are proceeding. Our approach is to have full consultation. We shall then have the backing both of the scientific report and of the opinion that we have consulted with regard to our chosen approach.

The existing system has been in operation for nearly 100 years. We are contemplating quite a radical but, in my view, necessary and belated change. We need to

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carry people with us. From our point of view, and from the views expressed in this House, I believe that we are certainly doing so.

The Earl of Liverpool: My Lords, would the noble Lord the Minister advise us whether, when the new regulations are in force, he will consider granting an amnesty to those pets in quarantine kennels at that time which otherwise fully comply with all the regulations that would be required of them?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, that is certainly an intriguing question. I shall take that away and consider it.

Iran: Evin Prison

2.51 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, on their next visit to Iran, Ministers will ask to see prisoners on death row in Evin prison.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we and our EU partners regularly raise our human rights concerns with the Iranians, including our concerns about the death penalty. No dates have yet been set for a ministerial visit to Iran, nor any programme discussed. The Government made clear their opposition to capital punishment when they joined Council of Europe partners at their summit on 10th and 11th October in calling for the universal abolition of the death penalty.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that her visit to the prisoners on death row in St. Catherine's, Jamaica, was a good way of highlighting our concern about the death penalty there? If a ministerial visit to Iran is arranged, it would be useful if Mr. Derek Fatchett, or whoever travels to Tehran, could apply to make a similar visit to death-row prisoners in Evin. Is the Minister aware that the UN Rapporteur on Iran expressed concern about the great increase in the number of people being executed, which reached 199 in 1997? He felt that if the Iranian authorities would at least report in public on the death penalties being imposed, some measure could be obtained of the justice of the system and whether or not it was used in a political manner.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Minister of State, Mr. Fatchett, raised our concern about human rights in general and the death penalty in particular with the Iranian charge d'affaires in London. He also raised the issue with Mr. Ahani, the director of the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry, on his recent visit to London in September. No dates have yet been arranged for any visit by Mr. Fatchett to Iran. All decisions about such visits have to be taken in the light of the prevailing circumstances at the time. I can assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend will consider the most

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effective way of raising the issue of human rights in general, and the death penalty in particular, if and when he is able to visit Iran.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, is the noble Baroness able to tell us how many countries still have the death penalty?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, no. I am unable to give the noble Baroness that information. However, I shall make inquiries and I shall then write to her and place a copy of my answer in the Library of the House.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does my noble friend raise the British Government's concern about the death penalty on visits to the United States of America and make representations about the 3,000 people in the United States on death row?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am the Minister with first responsibility for our relationship with the United States of America. I do, indeed, raise the concern of the United Kingdom about the death penalty with our friends from America. On occasions I have had some frank exchanges with them on the subject.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware--although the point made by the noble Lord is taken--that the United States at least has a system of trials and appeals which is open to the public, whereas in Iran nobody knows how the convictions are secured and in many cases people do not have a right of appeal?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is aware of the varying judicial systems around the world and the differences between them. I understand that my noble friend was raising some particular questions about the United States. I believe that the point he was making--slightly elliptically--was that possibly Her Majesty's Government did not take a robust line on the issue with all countries that have the death penalty. If that is what my noble friend thinks, he is wrong in that surmise. Those questions are raised properly and appropriately.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I wonder whether I could push the Minister on this point. Following the restoration of diplomatic relations at ambassadorial level, what pressure do the Government intend to exert on Iran to ensure the full access of human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch and international human rights monitors, and the UN special representative to Iran, Mr. Maurice Copithorne, given the fact that independent domestic human rights monitoring is severely restricted?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the first step is to ensure that we have a full ambassadorial exchange with Iran. As I was able to tell the House last week, that is under discussion at the moment. We hope

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that the next step will be to arrange a ministerial visit to Iran. Obviously, such a visit--if it is arranged--will be the first ministerial visit to Iran since 1979. There will be many issues to be discussed, including human rights.

The noble Lord raises further questions about such people as Mr. Copithorne and others. Of course, we should like to see Mr. Copithorne have full access to Iran and to have a full discussion about those issues in Iran. However, we can draw some comfort from the fact that Mrs. Robinson will go to Iran early next year and the Iranian Government have agreed that on her visit she should be accompanied by officials from Amnesty International.

Nobody claims that these issues come right overnight. However, Her Majesty's Government hope and believe that they are moving in the right direction so far as concerns Iran.

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