Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles; congratulations on chairing the debate so effectively. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) on giving so many people the opportunity to share her passion and frustration over the situation that Nazanin, Richard and Gabriella are all in. We all express our personal solidarity with them today, along with that of the thousands—probably tens or hundreds of thousands—of constituents represented by the voices here.
I hope you will indulge me, Sir Charles, if I recognise the SNP and Plaid Members who are either here or have been to visit Richard, but have not been able to speak. Those are my hon. Friends the Members for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald), for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan), for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald), for Gordon (Richard Thomson), for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan), for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson), for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), and for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock). I also pay tribute to the hon. Members for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey), for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), for Ceredigion (Ben Lake), and for North Down (Stephen Farry). We all believe that enough is enough; it is time for action.
I first met Richard outside the Iranian embassy in 2019, and had the privilege of meeting him again outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. He said it was one thing to keep vigil outside the embassy of the country that is holding his wife hostage—let us make no mistake; that is what Nazanin is, and that is the first thing the Minister ought to put on record today—but it is another to have to protest, and to go on hunger strike, outside his own Government’s buildings because of their inaction and unwillingness or inability to carry out their basic duty of care for one of their own citizens.
The Government repeatedly say they are doing everything they can but, as we have heard in this debate, that is patently not the case, as the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) and many others have said. It is clear that the repayment of debt is a major issue, and one that, if resolved, would bring about a major shift in Iranian policy. The right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt) has said as much, and others have said how that could be done.
Sadly, the feedback that we have had—the result of the hunger strike—was a series of increasingly frustrating meetings that made the family and all campaigners feel that no progress is being made. That is despite, as the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) says, other countries in recent years, including the United States, Australia, France and Germany, all successfully negotiating the release of their citizens who have been arbitrarily detained in Iran—but Britain has not secured any releases.
We have also heard the cases of Anoosheh Ashoori, Mehran Raoof and Morad Tahbaz, all of whom, interestingly—my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) said this to me in conversation—are dual nationals. I wonder if that makes the UK Government feel they have some sort of diminished responsibility for them, but a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), Jagtar Singh Johal, remains incarcerated in India, so there has to be more; more can be done and must be done.
Saying that diplomatic protection exists is one thing, but acting on it is another. I pay tribute to the point made by the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), and to the fact that, week after week, she raised this at business questions. She did that on behalf of all of us in the House who take an interest in that case, and I do not think the Government would be as responsive if not for her continuing to do that. That should be recognised.
Having the right to diplomatic protection means there should be a right to private consular meetings and immediate access to medical examination by an independent doctor. The Government could issue a formal protest to the Iranian authorities; they could summon the Iranian Ambassador—they summoned the French Ambassador after all. They could propose to the Iranian authorities the immediate commencement of formal negotiations to resolve the dispute; they could send a detailed legal memorandum to the Iranian authorities outlining the breaches of international law arising from their detention of these British nationals; and they should assert under international law their right to provide assistance. Consular assistance is important to all of us, including my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell). I hope there will be a further debate on that in the Chamber very soon.
Throughout the Brexit campaign and, indeed, the independence referendum campaign, we were always told how proud we should be of our British passports. Well, the British passport says:
“Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary”.
That is what it says on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s passport. The question for the Government today is: what are they doing to make it a reality?