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Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

Volume 830: debated on Tuesday 23 May 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they intend to proscribe the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

My Lords, the Government take the threat of the IRGC very seriously, and continue to condemn its actions. The Government will always consider the full range of powers available, including our robust counterterrorism powers, such as the proscription tool, where appropriate, to address the threat posed by Iran and the IRGC.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. It is now more than four months since the House of Commons passed a resolution universally in favour of the proscription of the IRGC. This is an organisation which is committed to armed resistance against Israel—exactly the same grounds on which the Government have proscribed Hezbollah. Our intelligence services are clear that it is committed to kidnappings and killings on UK soil. There must be an argument within government not to do this. Can the Minister enlighten the House on what that is? It seems very obvious to many Members across both Houses that it should be proscribed.

It might help if I explain what has been done. Over 300 Iranian individuals and entities have been sanctioned for activities, such as human rights violations, including 70 since October of last year. Other activities include nuclear proliferation, support to Russia and various regional activities. As an entity, the IRGC was designated in its entirety under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. More than 30 new designations of IRGC-related organisations and officials have been made by the FCDO since October 2022. The Government keep the list of proscribed organisations under review, but I go back to my earlier answer: while considering the range of available powers, we will continue to make use of the robust counterterrorism powers, including the proscription tool, where appropriate.

My Lords, that answer is simply not good enough. We have had Ministers and Prime Ministers support the objective of banning this organisation, which as the noble Lord said is a threat not only to the citizens of Iran but to citizens in this country. We have had commitments. I want to ask the Minister a more explicit question: what discussions has his department had with the FCDO on this matter? What discussions have been had with our allies who have proscribed this organisation? It is about time we acted, rather than just talked.

The Home Office has a long-standing policy of not commenting externally on proscription matters. As noble Lords will be aware, that position is informed by many considerations, including to avoid creating expectations that the Government will proscribe certain organisation, to reduce the risk that an organisation will take evasive action before a potential proscription order comes into force, to manage the risk that subsequent decisions are vulnerable to challenge on procedural grounds, and so on. As for conversations with international partners, of course we work with them. The UK’s approach to Iran is conducted in close co-ordination with key partners, including the EU and the US.

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my declaration of interests, particularly those relating to friendship towards to Israel. Does my noble friend understand that there is a certain feeling of Groundhog Day about his answers? We seem to be going round the houses, time and again. As Members have suggested, this is an organisation that pays people who send missiles into residential areas in Israel and use children as human shields, and that pays for organisations that have murdered a British mother and her children. What more does the IRGC need to do for the Government to proscribe it? All the reasons read out by my noble friend are examples of why we should proscribe it. Why not get on and just do it?

As I say, it remains under active consideration. I go back to what I said earlier: over 300 Iranian individuals and entities have been sanctioned for various activities, including those mentioned by my noble friend.

The Minister has evaded the questions from the noble Lords, Lord Walney and Lord Pickles, and from my noble friend. There is clearly a huge row going on in Government— we all know that. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office seems somehow to be able to veto what the rest of government think is appropriate, which is to proscribe this organisation. Can the Minister confirm that? This shilly-shallying will produce the effect he described as being so dangerous—that of giving due warning to the organisation that proscription may be on the way.

My Lords, I do not believe that it is shilly-shallying. As I said, it remains under active discussion among many departments in government.

My Lords, I want to take the Minister’s view on what active consideration means. On 26 March, it was reported that Tom Tugendhat, the Minister, met campaigners for proscription and told them that there would be proscription—that the Government were going to proscribe—but that he could not give them a date upon which that proscription was going to take place. Has such a conversation taken place? Have the Government taken a decision but are not yet ready to tell us?

I am familiar with the meeting referred to by the noble Lord. Mr Beheshti met the Security Minister on 29 March, following which Mr Beheshti uploaded a video recording of the meeting and stated, as the noble Lord has just outlined, that the Government are intending to do this. The formal read-out from the meeting confirmed that, unfortunately, Mr Beheshti had misinterpreted the content of the meeting.

My Lords, in a recently published joint annual report by Article 18 and other Christian organisations, the IRGC’s increasing involvement in the crackdown against peaceful Christian activities in Iran was highlighted for the second year in a row. Other religious minorities and peaceful protesters also report violent treatment during arrest and detention, as well as the interference of the IRGC’s intelligence branch in court proceedings to ensure harsher sentences against those who are accused. I absolutely agree with the noble Lords who are pressing for proscription, but given all of this, does the Minister agree that we can and should do more, beyond proscription of the IRGC? Will the Government consider offering a safe route scheme for those from Iran who have suffered persecution in the form of arrest and imprisonment on account of their faith?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for her question; she raised some interesting points. I remind noble Lords that the National Security Bill, currently progressing through your Lordships’ House, will provide another significant toolkit in the fight against individuals working for state entities like the IRGC in this country—the Bill will criminalise a wide range of hostile activities. I totally accept the right reverend Prelate’s points. I cannot comment on safe routes for Iranian individuals, but I will make sure that her views are taken back.

My Lords, nothing happens inside Iran without the active complicity and knowledge of the IRGC. Will the Minister take the opportunity to condemn the “horrific wave” of executions, as described by United Nations special rapporteurs on Friday, including those of Majid Kazemi, Saeed Yaghoubi and Saleh Mirhashemi that day, after they were reportedly subjected to torture in prison? Does not this bloodlust and the IRGC go hand in hand? As the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, said, what more has to happen before there is proscription?

My Lords, I am grateful that the Government are keeping this matter under active consideration because otherwise there would be a real risk of a delay in a decision.

The fact is that the Minister who answered the debate in the other place on 12 January this year was unable to identify a single reason why the IRGC should not be proscribed. My noble friend the Minister is also unable to find a reason, and that is because there is none. I respectfully urge my noble friend and the Government to take the only decision available to them, and to take it soon.

That is a very good question. I am not entirely sure exactly what else it would do above and beyond what we have already done with the sanctions and so on.

My Lords, something very strange is going on in government. Most organisations have meetings to discuss problems, and then come to a conclusion and make a decision. It seems that the Government have those meetings and discussions but make no decision—why is that?

I do not accept that characterisation. As I said, the discussions of course continue, and as soon as there is something more to say I am sure that we will be back to say it.

The exchanges we have heard are predictable and understandable, but is it not important that, in all of these kinds of discussions, we recognise the wider context in which violence takes place in the Middle East, as it does relentlessly and remorselessly? The wider context is the complete absence of any significant development in the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Until such time as that is at least moving and there is some prospect of a two-state solution—whatever the rights and wrongs of it—this kind of violence will continue.

I am sure that the noble Lord is right, and I am more than happy to condemn all violence in the Middle East, wherever it comes from.