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Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 9 October 2007

The Government do not promote investment in Iran. UK Trade and Investment’s advice to business makes it clear that potential investors should be aware of the implications of existing and future sanctions before investing in Iran. Any company or individual considering investment in Iran should contact officials in UKTI, who will be able to inform them of the legal constraints and considerable commercial and political risks that they would face.

I am sorry to tell the Minister that that is a very misleading answer. The UK Trade and Investment website says:

“Iran has the potential for significant growth…How can we help you?”

Is the Minister aware that Iran is exporting terror, threatening to wipe Israel off the map, manufacturing nuclear weapons and manufacturing bombs to kill our troops? He is using taxpayers’ money to support the economy that has paid for that. Does he accept that that is nothing short of a policy of appeasement, and will he stop it?

Unusually, the hon. Gentleman gives good advice from a sedentary position. There is a sentence that needs to be changed, and I have spoken to the chief executive of UKTI about that. However, many British and European companies in Iran are trading within the law imposed by sanctions. UKTI gives them advice and tries to help them to ensure that they do not encroach beyond the law, which is an important function. I quite agree, however, that the regime in Tehran is obnoxious, and we must do everything that we can to put pressure on it to ensure that it changes those policies.

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is not a very nice regime in Iran, but is it not time that we started new initiatives and a new dialogue with Iran? Is it not about time that we distanced ourselves from the United States and showed Iran that we want to talk to it? Is that not the way to persuade it to change its ways?

We have always maintained diplomatic relations with Iran, unlike the United States. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has met the Iranian Foreign Minister, and we have had many discussions with the Iranians. The E3 plus 3 has made offers to Iran which, by any definition, are very generous and sensible. We have offered, for example, to help them with a civil nuclear programme, but they have rejected those offers. They have constantly played for time, and they are developing—as far as I believe on the intelligence that we have been given—a nuclear bomb programme. They have enriched uranium with that in view, which is something that we cannot ignore—it is extremely important. In my view, it is one of the most serious difficulties that the world faces at the moment, because if the Iranians develop a nuclear bomb, there will be proliferation across the world, as others will want to develop nuclear bombs.

How does the Minister explain recent reports that the British Government are resisting pressure from France and the United States to accelerate further EU sanctions against Iran? Given his very strong criticism of the Iranian regime, will he commit the Government today to press urgently for action to deny Iranian banks access to European financial systems and to impose restrictions on European investment in Iranian gas and oilfields?

Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman those assurances and tell him that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will argue at the appropriate EU meetings next week that we should tighten sanctions across Europe against the Iranian regime. I am very confident that that is exactly what we will do.