Is the Minister aware that a statement critical of UK government policy was circulated in both Houses of this Parliament in February of this year? If so, will the noble Baroness comment on her reaction to that statement?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am aware of the statement. The noble Viscount will not be surprised to know that Her Majesty's Government do not agree with the statement that the regime in Iran is incapable of change. Both the November UN resolution on human rights in Iran, and the most recent report by the United Nations special representative, Maurice Copithorne, noted important improvements brought about by the present Government there. We prefer our analysis to be based on these internationally respected sources rather than on the propaganda of the National Council for the Resistance of Iran, which is mentioned in the statement and which appears largely to have inspired it. The
Lord Avebury: My Lords, when he is appointed, will the ambassador work for the admission of Mr. Maurice Copithorne, the UN rapporteur, to carry out his mandate in Iran? In particular, will the Government arrange for further inquiries to be made about the trial which was supposed to be held of Ministry of Intelligence operatives who were arrested for the assassination of dissidents but who have been held in custody for some months now without any sign of the trial emerging?
We have consistently argued with the Iranians that Mr. Maurice Copithorne, the UN special representative, be allowed to visit Iran. We believe that his reports are a vital source of independent information. The November EU sponsored United Nations resolution on human rights called on Iran to resume its co-operation with the special representative. A number of different individuals have been subjected to trials--some to the extremes of the law in Iran--in respect of whom Her Majesty's Government have made a number of representations, as I have had occasion to discuss with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, fairly recently.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I recognise the importance of restraining any development of weapons, in particular missile technology, in Iran, but will the Minister confirm that it is very much in the interests of the United Kingdom and the European Union to encourage the steps towards
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with what the noble Baroness says. It has been most encouraging to see local elections in Iran and to see the election of women as a result. The United Kingdom looks on the positive side of the changes in Iran. We believe that the election of President Khatami marked a change in that country's attitude to a number of different issues.
Of course, we are frank about the fact that there remain concerns. We and the EU want a positive movement to be made by the Iranians in some areas of long-standing concern. Indeed, we have recently discussed weapons of mass destruction. However, we also wish to pursue with Iran its support on some aspects of terrorism and its human rights record which, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded us, is so important.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, the Minister mentioned some improvements in human rights brought about by the current Iranian Government. Do they include correct treatment for minorities, notably the Christian and Baha'i minorities in Iran?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we continue to have serious concerns about the Baha'i community in Iran. Iran is aware of the Government's worries on that front. The persecution of individuals on religious grounds is totally unacceptable. The EU-sponsored United Nations resolution on human rights in Iran was passed last year, thereby reaffirming the EU's concern about the situation. Therefore, we have continued to press those legitimate human rights concerns with the Iranians.
The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are committed to doubling to 500,000 the number of adults being helped with literacy and numeracy skills by 2002. The University for Industry and our expansion of further education are two important initiatives towards meeting that target. We welcome Sir Claus's report and its proposal for a new national strategy. As a first step, I shall chair a high level strategy group, supported by expert practitioners, to take work forward to tackle this important national issue.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, about the enormous importance of involving employers in this work. They are in a good position to assess employees who have particular problems of adult literacy and numeracy. It is important that as a first step my group should invite the views of the key bodies involved; they are the CBI, the National Training Council and the TUC.
As regards the noble Lord's second question, one of the problems identified by Sir Claus Moser in his report was the large number of qualifications which currently exist for those taking courses in adult literacy and numeracy. There are too many and it is confusing. We shall consult the QCA about ways of developing a new strong qualification that is credible and recognised by all. We shall also examine ways of reducing the large number which now exist.
Lord Tope: My Lords, is the Minister aware that according to the Moser Report we shall need another 15,000 full-time teachers for the new basics course, compared with fewer than 4,000 which we have at present? Can she say how the Government intend to fill that huge gap and how long that will take?
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