asked Her Majesty’s Government:
How they voted on the proposal to keep the People’s Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran on the European Union’s list of banned terrorist organisations at the Council of Ministers meeting on 16 July.
My Lords, the continued listing of PMOI on the new EU list of persons and entities subject to the EUCT assets freeze was supported in the Council of Ministers by the overwhelming majority of member states. The renewed listing was based on new information brought to the Council’s attention by another EU member state. However, respecting the UK court judgment, we abstained in the vote.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that dismal story. Will he first confirm that until a few weeks ago the listing of the PMOI in Europe rested entirely on its listing domestically in the United Kingdom? Secondly, will he confirm that two superior courts in the United Kingdom, including the Court of Appeal, after scrutinising all the evidence, declared that its listing here was unjustified and perverse, and that Parliament has endorsed an order to remove it from the list? Thirdly, will he confirm that the European Court of First Instance has declared that its initial listing was unlawful? Given all that, would my noble friend agree that the continued listing of the PMOI demonstrates a shameful indifference to human rights or an abject capitulation to the Iranian Government—and, in either case, a repudiation of the rule of law?
My Lords, I felt it enormously important that the UK Government respected the undertakings we had given your Lordships in this House, and that we ourselves were therefore not party to a vote at the European level on continuing this listing. I urge the supporters of the PMOI, who were successful here in overturning the view of the Government through court action, to similarly take advantage of the Court of First Instance action in Europe to which my noble friend referred to pursue a similar legal strategy there to secure redress.
My Lords, how could it have been proper for the British Government to accept and not oppose a new listing when the Court of Appeal, having examined the evidence, had concluded that there was no evidence to justify any listing? How could any evidence presented by France to justify a new listing have escaped the notice of those who represented Her Majesty’s Government before the Court of Appeal, and not therefore have been known to that court when it gave its judgment? It follows, therefore, that by not opposing this matter the British Government were spitting in the face of a court in this country, the Court of Appeal.
My Lords, the noble Lord will have to allow that that is not the case. We were determined to respect that court decision, which is why we were not able to support the Government who brought to the table new information that had not been available earlier, on the basis of which they were able to persuade many Governments of Europe to support them. As to why we abstained rather than opposing the listing, the difficulty is that it is a total list with all terrorist organisations on it, and you have to vote up or down on that list. We were therefore faced with the unpalatable situation that either the old list would be retained, which would have done no good because the PMOI would have remained on it, or we would have been left with no listed terrorist organisations in Europe. We felt that was an unacceptable threat to the people of Britain as well as the rest of the Continent.
My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House what was the evidence that was so persuasive?
I cannot, my Lords, for reasons of confidentiality. However, the PMOI has been written to and the case against it, on which the decision was made, has been shared with it. It now has the option of pursuing this in a European appeal court action.
My Lords, I think the House wishes to hear from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn.
My Lords, if, as the Minister’s letter of July states, the Council has given no reasons for putting the PMOI back on the list; if, as appears to be the case, the Council did not identify in detail the basis of the French Government’s reasons for doing so; and if, as also appears to be the case, the Council contends that, by abstaining, the British Government and others have not prevented the decision being unanimous, how can the Government possibly say that they upheld the rule of law as declared by the Court of Appeal when, by their very abstention, they were implicitly giving support to this proposal by the French Government and the Council?
Again, my Lords, it will be a matter for the PMOI and the Council; the PMOI can institute proceedings in the Court of First Instance challenging the Council’s decision. The Council is required to defend its decision and make clear its actions. It may be of some small comfort to noble Lords to know that although the Council decision has led to an asset freeze, because of the situation we faced before the court decision, it is no longer illegal in this country to be a member of the PMOI; it is only an issue of the assets of the PMOI, which are under threat from the European ruling.