My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given today by my right honourable friend Alistair Burt, the Minister of State, to an Urgent Question in the other place. The Answer is as follows:
“We remain deeply concerned for all our dual national detainees in Iran, including Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and are doing everything that we can for them, including trying to secure access and ensure their welfare. We will continue to approach the case in a way that we judge is most likely to secure the outcome that we all want. Therefore, she and the House will forgive me if I am limited in my comments on both her case and those of other dual nationals, both at the moment and in relation to any continuing developments. The Prime Minister raised all our consular cases in a telephone call with President Rouhani on 13 May, and the Foreign Secretary raised the cases in a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif in Brussels last week. I also raised them with my contacts in Tehran. Our ambassador in Tehran has also raised concerns with the Iranians at the highest levels, and spoke by telephone with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe on Sunday 20 May. Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials are in regular contact with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that response to an Urgent Question. Yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said the Government were taking all possible steps to raise our concerns about Nazanin. Obviously, our first consideration is for her welfare and that of other British nationals who are detained, but in terms of not giving a running commentary and actually focusing on the most successful strategy for her release, I feel it is also important to focus on the welfare of her family and particularly her husband. I hope the Government and indeed the Foreign Secretary himself will undertake to meet Mr Ratcliffe as soon as possible so that the Government’s strategy and hopes for its success can be fully outlined to him, and so that we can all go forward in the confidence that she will be released as soon as practicable.
The noble Lord makes an important point. I reassure the House that the principal source of our information is indeed the family, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is closely in touch with the family. He makes a good point about our natural concern for the well-being of Mrs Ratcliffe. We understand that she is receiving twice-weekly visits from her family, including from her little daughter, Gabriella, and that she is allowed to speak by telephone to her husband regularly. I am sure that the noble Lord’s observations have been heard. I understand that Mr Ratcliffe was in the Gallery in the other place. I believe that my right honourable friend may have had a meeting with him; I cannot confirm it categorically.
My Lords, I accept and understand the constraints under which the Minister has dealt with the matter, but it is at once complicated, disappointing and sensitive—not helped, if I may say so, by what one might charitably describe as the carelessness of expression of the Foreign Secretary when he publicly implied that Mrs Ratcliffe’s visit to Iran was for more than family reasons.
Without overly linking this to present circumstances surrounding the nuclear deal with Iran, is this not a propitious time at which to make a humanitarian case on behalf of Mrs Ratcliffe, based, first, on her previous ill-health and her continued separation from her husband but also, one might argue, more particularly her continued separation from her daughter?
I thank the noble Lord for recognising the undoubted sensitivities and delicacies which inevitably prevail in this case. He makes an important point. Sunday’s telephone conversation was the first that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was able to have with Her Majesty’s ambassador in Tehran. He assured her that we continue to prioritise her case and do everything we can to bring about her release, including requesting consular access, access to medical reports and a temporary furlough so that she can celebrate her daughter’s fourth birthday on 11 June. Again, I am sure that the noble Lord’s observations are being noted.
I urge the Minister to consider how those who are friends, as well as relatives, of dual nationals imprisoned in such circumstances can be reassured. Of course, I appreciate the constraints on what she can say and what can be said outside this Chamber. I ask this question having had the experience of contacting the Foreign Secretary’s private office at the request of a friend who is a friend of someone who has recently been imprisoned, who wanted to provide information about that person’s background which might be of use to the Government. Having spoken to the Foreign Secretary’s private office, I then emailed, my friend emailed and I emailed again. There has been no response to any of those contacts. I do not expect to be told the detail, nor does my friend, but a reassurance that offers to help are taken seriously would make the Government’s position better understood.
I thank the noble Baroness for raising the issue. Obviously, I do not know the specific case to which she refers, but I should like to do whatever I can to assist. If, after Questions, she would like to have a word with me, I will do whatever I can to facilitate a response to her approach to the FCO.
Quite simply, no. It is important, as others have rightly observed, that we acknowledge that these are extremely difficult and challenging circumstances. The United Kingdom Government are doing what we can to maintain contact with the family and to try to facilitate access through the normal diplomatic channels. It was a welcome development that we were able, via the ambassador, to have that conversation with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe on Sunday.
My Lords, may I just make one point to the Minister? These are very difficult cases, and I speak as someone who dealt with the two nurses in Saudi Arabia. That went on for a very long time and was very distressing to many people. It is necessary in addressing this issue to take account, and to be seen to take account, of the Iranian Government’s judicial processes. We will not get very far unless we at least do that. We may not like their processes—they may be impenetrable and very unwelcome —but we have to take account of them.
My Lords, on the unilateral position taken by the United States towards the JCPOA, there are understandable increased tensions within the Iranian authorities—between those who are more, let us say, hard line and those who are maybe more progressive in their relationship with the West. Can the Government give an assurance that, as our dialogues with our European partners continue, we will not lose sight of the fact that there are interests involving British joint citizens in our discussions at a high geopolitical level, and that such issues can be raised on an ongoing basis rather than just through a consular relationship?
I can reassure your Lordships that the Government are cognisant of the position of dual national detainees everywhere. We do everything we can to facilitate appropriate support not just for the detainees but, of course, for their families. I said earlier that there were limits to what I am able to say. I do not dispute that there is always room for global diplomacy, but this case has understandably caused a great deal of disquiet and concern, and the Government remain utterly committed to trying to support the family to see whether we can find some resolution to the difficulties.