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Volume 888: debated on Wednesday 12 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the relations between the United Kingdom and Iran.

Our relations with this rapidly developing country are close and friendly, and are expanding considerably in all fields. We are allied to Iran in the Central Treaty Organisation.

The considerable increase in the export trade over the past year has been very gratifying, but is the Minister satisfied that his Department is doing everything it can to see that we get a proper share of this growing market. particularly since both the Americans and the French have recently signed very much larger commercial agreements? What plans has the Foreign Secretary for visiting Teheran in the near future? Will the Minister make a comment on the recent agreement between Iran and Iraq?

Responsibility for trade is basically a matter for the Secretary of State for Trade, although we co-operate very closely. When he was in Iran earlier in the year for meetings of the Joint Ministerial Economic Commission my right hon. Friend announced agreements involving future business for Britain worth about £500 million. That was a substantial amount. The figures for January this year— the last month for which figures are available— show that United Kingdom exports to Iran are at more than twice the level of just 12 months ago. As for future visits, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is certainly planning to visit Iran in April to attend a finance conference.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that although it is gratifying that we have improved economic and other relations with this important country, grave charges have been made in recent times about the observance of human rights in Iran? If it is the case that we have a much better relationship with Iran, will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity on some appropriate occasion of expressing the concern of many people in this country about the protection of rights in Iran?

I have seen a report recently, which I think was published in the Sunday Times. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of that report. We are not in a position to intercede on behalf of individuals, although there is no doubt that the Government of Iran and other Governments will know the attitude of Her Majesty's Government on the question of torture. We were active on this issue in promoting a resolution which went through the General Assembly at its last session.

In view of the good relations which the Minister says that this country so happily has with Iran, to what effect will he put those good relations in improving Iran's relations with Iraq and easing the suffering of the Kurds in the light of the way that the war seems to be moving with the great increase in the number of refugees and the human suffering? What will he be doing in a humanitarian respect as regards that problem?

It is difficult to know precisely what will be the consequences of the agreement which has been reached between Iraq and Iran. Her Majesty's Government welcome that agreement. I think that it is likely to improve relations in a number of spheres in that area. It is not for me to prophesy what its effect will be on the Kurds.