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Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

Volume 834: debated on Wednesday 29 November 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to proscribe the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation.

My Lords, the Government continue to take the threat of the IRGC very seriously and 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.

My Lords, there is a compelling case for proscribing the IRGC. Scotland Yard says that since the start of 2022, Iran has made 15 attempts to kidnap or even kill British and UK-based people. The director-general of MI5 has warned of Tehran projects posing a threat to the UK. Would not such a proscription be in the interests of national security at home and abroad, as well as peace and security in the Middle East, as highlighted by the current conflict? With the USA and the UK’s Countering Extremism Commissioner now calling for the proscription of the IRGC, what possible reason is there for the Government to delay in outlawing a terrorist organisation that threatens security both at home and abroad?

My Lords, I recognise the strength of feeling in this House, and in the other place, on this subject. Let me explain what the Government have done. The Home Office is leading work on countering Iranian state threats in the UK, making full use of the breadth and expertise of government and our extraordinary and courageous police, security and intelligence agencies. On 1 November, the Security Minister announced in the other place that the Prime Minister has asked him to lead the Defending Democracy Taskforce to build further resilience within our institutions in order to safeguard against physical, personnel and cyber threats.

The National Security Act will provide another significant toolkit in the fight against individuals working for state entities such as the IRGC; it criminalises a wide range of hostile activities conducted by, for or on behalf of foreign powers. Materially assisting a foreign intelligence service in any activity in or related to the UK will be a crime.

We continue to make use of any and every opportunity to call out Iran’s malign activity—I apologise for the long answer but there is a lot to say. More than 350 Iranian individuals and entities have been sanctioned for activities, including human rights violations. Since January 2023, we have sanctioned more than 140 Iranian individuals and entities in response to the regime’s human rights violations. That is being strengthened.

My Lords, is there not a much simpler and shorter answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker: the Foreign Office?

It is a shorter answer, I will certainly give the noble Lord that. The Government keep the list of proscribed organisations under review. We do not comment on whether a specific organisation is or is not being considered for proscription. This position has been informed by several considerations, including to avoid creating an expectation that the Government will proscribe a certain organisation, to reduce the risk of an organisation taking evasive action before the proscription order comes into force, and to manage the risk of any subsequent decision being vulnerable to challenge on procedural grounds. The Government will always consider the full range of powers available to tackle threats on our soil.

My Lords, not a single Member of this House, I would think, believes that there is any answer to this question other than “yes”. Can my noble friend please go back to his department and tell the Secretary of State that what we want to hear is that this organisation has been proscribed?

As I said earlier, I fully understand the strength of feeling in both this House and the other place, as does the Home Secretary. I am well aware that 67 cross-party parliamentarians wrote to the Prime Minister requesting proscription in early November. The Home Secretary is due to respond to that.

My Lords, one of the very worst features of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard is its persecution of young women. Can the Minister explain why the Government still have not put in place a safe and legal route for persecuted Iranian women to seek asylum in the UK?

My Lords, this subject comes up frequently. As noble Lords will be aware, we work with all the relevant UN agencies to ensure safe and legal routes for people such as that.

My Lords, I very strongly support the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. This Government proscribed Hamas as a terrorist organisation. The Iranian regime runs Hamas; it tells them what to do; it commands them what to do. Can the Minister, without any further delay, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, proscribe the Iranian regime as a terrorist organisation, which is of course what it is?

My Lords, we are very clear that Iran poses an unacceptable threat to Israel. We have long condemned Iran’s destabilising activity throughout the region, including its political, financial and military support of several militant and proscribed groups, including Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. As I said earlier, we are committed to working with the international community to ensure that Iran abides by international laws and norms and is held to account for its destabilising activities in the region.

My Lords, I understand that these are fine judgments. The suppression of terrorist organisations can often diminish our operational intelligence, so it is not an easy decision. However, the last time I intervened on this subject was in 2010 in the House of Commons. The Government have had 14 years to review the situation, which the Minister told us was constantly under review. Can he tell us anything that has happened during those 14 years which suggests that we should do other than ban this organisation?

I pay tribute to the noble Lord’s extensive experience in this area and his perspective on it. These are obviously finely calibrated judgments. I am afraid that I will not speculate on what information has been considered over the past 14 years; it would be unwise of me to do so.

My Lords, it is clear that the Iranian regime does support groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, including via the IRGC. The Minister will have heard the strength of feeling in this House. However, US officials have confirmed reports that Iran did not have prior notice of Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October. What assessment has been made of the true extent of the links between the IRGC and Hamas, and what recent conversations have the UK Government had with Iran to chart a course towards peace in the region?

The right reverend Prelate asks a difficult question in terms of conversations, security and intelligence. I will avoid those subjects, but there are extensive and ongoing conversations with all our international partners to ensure that Iran is held to account on the world stage, and that includes the US.

My Lords, on the question of the possible involvement of the IRGC on the appalling weekend of 7 October, is the Minister aware of reports at the time of Farsi having been spoken during the intrusion from Gaza into Israel? If that is correct, the implication is plain that the relationship between Hamas and the IRGC is a very strong and rather distressing one.

I am afraid I am not aware of those reports of Farsi having been spoken, but as I have acknowledged, we are aware that Iran funds some of the groups that are under discussion, including Hezbollah and Hamas.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and I too asked this question on 15 November in the King’s Speech debate on foreign affairs and defence. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a death cult run by psychopaths who think nothing of the rape, torture and beheading of civilians in Iran should they dare to dissent. It is they who pull the strings of Hamas and other terrorist groups and who share responsibility for the attack on Israel on 7 October. Can my noble friend tell us when the United Kingdom will join the European Union, the United States of America and other countries in proscribing them as such?

My Lords, I am afraid I have to say to my noble friend, as I have already said a couple of times, that the Government keep the list of proscribed organisations under review. We do not comment on whether a specific organisation is or is not being considered for proscription.

My Lords, the IRGC has a violent and deep hatred of Jews, Israel, Christianity and the West. On that alone, it should be proscribed. However, proscription is not where it stops. Hamas has been proscribed for some considerable time. When will we see more action on what is happening on the streets of the United Kingdom with those who are supporting Hamas?

My Lords, that is an operational matter for the police, as has also been discussed at the Dispatch Box on a number of occasions. I point to last weekend’s protests, which passed off much more peacefully, it would seem, than some of their predecessors. It is probably too early to say this, but things look to be heading in the right direction regarding the noble Baroness’s question.