Homosexuals deserve to be executed or tortured, an Iranian leader told British MPs during a private meeting at a peace conference.

According to the Times Mohsen Yahyavi is the highest-ranked politician to admit that Iran believes in the death penalty for homosexuality after a spate of reports that gay youths were being hanged.

President Ahmadinejad, questioned by students in New York two months ago about the executions, claimed there were no gays in Iran.

Britain regularly challenges Iran about its gay hangings, stonings and executions of adulterers and perceived moral criminals, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) papers show.

A series of reported executions of gays, including two underage boys whose public hanging was posted on the internet, has alarmed human rights campaigners.

Mahmoud Asqari and Ayad Marhouni were hanged in Justice Square in Mashhad in 2005. Graphic photographs of the execution of the youths, who were under 18 when arrested, were released by the Iranian Students NewsAgency.

Gay rights groups in Britain, such as Outrage!, have accused Iran of cloaking executions for homosexuality with bogus charges for more serious crimes.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the FCO released papers to the Times about the death penalty being used in Iran for homosexuality, adultery and sex outside marriage.

Minutes taken by an official describe a meeting between British and Iranian MPs at the Inter-Parliamentary Union in May. When the Britons raised the hangings of Asqari and Marhouni, the leader of the Iranian delegation, Mr Yahyavi, “explained that according to Islam gays and lesbianism were not permitted,” the record states.

“He said that if homosexual activity is in private there is no problem, but those in overt activity should be executed [he initially said tortured but changed it to executed].

“He argued that homosexuality is against human nature and that humans are here to reproduce. Homosexuals do not reproduce.”

A researcher present at the gathering also told the Times that Mr Yahyavi has said homosexuality was to blame for a lot of diseases, such as Aids.

Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Nigeria apply the death penalty for homosexuality, according to the International Lesbian and Gay Association.