Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is not a cheerful Bill and it is certainly not one which the Government would have wished to introduce, but after much thought we have been driven to the conclusion that it is necessary for the good health of the Alliance on which our national security depends to a large extent. It is mainly on that ground that I commend it to the House.
The House will be familiar with the background and I need not go into it in detail. It is just over six months since the American hostages were taken and confined in the embassy in Tehran. For five of those six months, the United States has relied on legal and diplomatic means to secure their release. That has been remarkable, given the dismay and anger that Americans have clearly felt and expressed throughout that period. Is it not fair to say that probably no other major Power at any period of history would have shown such patience and restraint in response to such events?
Continuing the story of the diplomatic and legal measures that were taken in an attempt to secure the release of the hostages, on 4 December the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution without opposition calling for the immediate release of the hostages. On 15 December, the International Court of Justice made an interim decision, which I understand is binding under international law, ordering the release of the hostages. That underlines the fact that this is not just a quarrel between the United States and Iran in which the rest of us are essentially spectators. What has happened in Tehran has been, as the International Court of Justice underlined, an affront to a part of international law in which all our interests are involved.
In January, the Secretary-General of the United Nations visited Tehran. In the same month, a further Security Council resolution was vetoed by the Soviet Union. In February and March, there was an unsuccessful visit to Tehran by the United Nations commission of inquiry. All those diplomatic and legal efforts were fully supported by Britain and the other allies of the United States.
It was only on 8 April that we were asked by the President to enlarge that diplomatic and public support to economic measures. As the House knows, on 22 April, EEC Foreign Ministers decided
to request their national parliaments immediately to take any necessary measures to impose sanctions against Iran in accordance with the Security Council resolution of 10 January which was vetoed and in accordance with the rules of international law.
They further decided that, if possible, such powers should be taken by 17 May, which is the date on which the Foreign Ministers next meet. They said:
If by that time there has not been any decisive progress"—
I underline that phrase—
leading to the release of the hostages they will-jointly implement sanctions.
That is the background to the Bill.
Since that meeting on 22 April, there have been two dramatic happenings—the unsuccessful rescue attempt by the United States and the siege of the Iranian embassy in London which was ended successfully with the freeing of 19 hostages. Neither event has changed the underlying situation. The rescue attempt led to the dispersal of the hostages to, as far as we know, several Iranian cities. That makes it hard to imagine that such an attempt could be repeated. After the siege of Prince's Gate, we all hoped—as the Prime Minister said in the House—that a new window would have been opened for diplomatic efforts. That may still be so.
We asked Sir John Graham, our ambassador to Tehran, who was of great help to us here during the siege by keeping in touch by telephone with the Iranian President, to go back to Tehran. He has since seen the President and the diplomatic efforts of Britain and the Nine will continue. The House will understand that they have most chance of success if they are continued fairly privately.
It is not immediately obvious how, if we are to keep open what the hon. Gentleman refers to as the new window, it is sensible to start talking about sanctions. If we are serious about the new window we should not have the Bill.
There have been windows in the past and it is right to pursue every opportunity. But so many opportunities have come and gone without marked progress that we do not believe that we would be justified in turning down the American President's request and going back on our agreement because of the point that the hon. Gentleman has made. I shall develop later the question of how we see the likely consequences in Iran of the measures proposed in the Bill, though I doubt whether the hon. Member will agree with my analysis.
We have decided today, in accordance with what was proposed at Luxembourg on 22 April, to give one week's notice to the Iranian authorities of the suspension of the visa abolition agreement. That means that within a week any Iranians wishing to visit this country and any Britons wishing to visit Iran will require visas.
I made no such suggestion. Specific questions about the visa regime are, of course, a matter for the Home Office.
My noble Friend the Foreign Secretary took stock of this whole position in Washington when he went there last week and had the opportunity to discuss it with the President, with the new Secretary of State, Senator Muskie, before his confirmation, and many other American authorities. It is important that the House should know that he was asked, in the most urgent terms, to carry through the agreement that had been reached at Luxembourg. Meanwhile, we have been working on how we would translate this agreement into national terms. It was agreed that we should each take national measures. This is not a question of Community legislation.
I cannot confirm that because it is not so. I hope that hon. Members will permit me to continue with my speech before asking me to give way again.
We have been working on how to translate this agreement into national measures. We have received representations from many hon. Members in different parts of the House on specific points and, also, representations from British firms. We have spent a lot of time—this may be what the hon. Gentleman refers to, although the report he has seen is wrong—working on details with our European partners and other Governments, particularly the Government of Japan. An important point has to be made. Some letters I have received chide us for not acting alone and at once to support the United States. There has been quite a volume of correspondence to this effect. In our view, it is right, in principle, to act, whenever we can, in concert with our partners, and it is also, in this case, a matter of plain common sense. We do not intend either to lag behind or to jump ahead of our other main competitors. We do not intend to take measures that have the effect of delivering trade into the hands of our competitors.
The legal position is different in different countries. That will not come as a bombshell of surprise. Nor will those who study the matter be surprised to know that Continental Governments tend to have wider powers under existing legislation and tend to operate more by statutory instrument or decree than this country does. We are trying to iron out these differences in order to reach, in practice, a similar result. It is not enough to concert in advance what measures should be taken. We have to concert throughout on how they are applied. Machinery exists among the Nine. We are in close touch with the Japanese, the Australians, and the Canadians and others. We intend to use this machinery to the full at every stage.
On proportionality, is the aim to obtain similar effects on the trading relationships of each of the Nine with Iran? If, as is rumoured, foodstuffs will be exempt, this will have a relatively less harmful effect on France's trade with Iran.
I think I am right in saying that several of the countries to which I have referred have a more substantial trade than ourselves in industrial goods. Food is not covered. It was not covered in the draft Security Council resolution. Sanctions against food are not applied by the United States. The hon. Gentleman is wrong. If he looks at the figures, he will find that French and Italian trade in other goods is substantial.
Another point that I am sure will arise in the debate—it inspires a good deal of the opposition to the Bill—is the parallel with Rhodesia. I am sure that we shall hear in this debate echoes of those endless and unhappy debates that have taken place over 15 years on Rhodesian sanctions. I would try to argue, not perhaps with an enormous hope of success, that the position is entirely different. The problem is different, the objective is different. We are not attempting in the Bill, or in any orders made under the Bill, to change a regime. We are attempting to bring a regime back to some legality from the past. We are not claiming to seal frontiers or to bring anyone to
I hope that the House will not find in our mouths the kind of overblown rhetoric that was familiar, at any rate, in the initial years, of sanctions against Rhodesia. The position is entirely different. The objective is more modest. In Iran, we are faced with a thoroughly confused and shifting political situation, with different groups jostling for power and now one, now another, appearing to have its nose in front. I do not think it would be wise in that situation for anyone, not even the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), to be dogmatic either way in advance about the effects of the measures that might be taken under the Bill.
We are dealing with a country closely geared by the past to the economies of the West. Plenty of people in Iran know that whatever paper agreements are signed—I expect that we may see some paper agreements—it is not possible, except with a lot of disruption, to switch the emphasis and the gearing of the Iranian economy to Eastern Europe. Plenty of people in Iran know how disastrous the effects would be if they tried. One has only to consider the plight of and the comments now made by those who rule Mozambique or those now trying to get out of Cuba after several years of seeing their country hitched to the Soviet Union, and one has only to study a little experience across the world, to know that there is no prosperity for Iran in hitching its economy to that of the East.
We are trying to give a signal to the people who know the facts of the world that they cannot expect to enjoy prosperity in association with the West if they seek to humiliate the United States and break international law in this flagrant way. With these thoughts in mind, we have looked at the powers that the Government already possess to see whether they might be sufficient for the purpose that we have in mind. The United Nations Act 1946 would have been the right instrument if the Security Council had passed its resolution on 15 January without a Soviet veto. The resolution could have been put into our national legislation by means of the United Nations Act 1946. It would have been mandatory. That is no good because of the Soviet veto.
We looked at the Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act 1939. Many hon. Members will have studied that Act. They will know that it is something of a blockbuster within the field that it covers. The 1939 Act enables the Secretary of State for Trade to prohibit or regulate the import or export of goods of any kind. There is no limitation of circumstances or extent. It gives that power to the Secretary of State without any further parliamentary procedure. Those are powers that the Government already possess. The 1939 Act is still in effect.
There is an assurance that I am authorised to give to the House which, if I had not given, the House would have insisted upon. If the context of Iran it were decided, at any future time, by the Government to make use of their powers under the 1939 Act, the House would be given an opportunity to pronounce on that exercise of powers, even though there is no such requirement in the Act. We came to the conclusion that the 1939 Act was not sufficient for our purposes because, although it is a blockbuster, its scope is too narrow.
That Act is concerned with the shipment of goods. It does not cover a number of matters included in the draft Security Council resolution which we wished to cover. It does not cover service contracts or the use of British ships or British aircraft to carry goods from third countries to Iran. It does not cover the triangular arrangement by which a British business man in London could contract to supply to Iran goods from a third country.
We therefore came to the conclusion, reluctantly and after a good deal of thought, that a new Bill was needed to be read in conjunction with the powers which we already possess. There will be opportunities tomorrow to go through the Bill in detail and I do not need to do so now. I will, however, give the main headings.
Under clause 1 the Government take powers to impose sanctions in relation to the contracts with Iran. That clause, like the whole Bill, is clearly linked with the detention of hostages. Then follow two important clarifications. Subsection (2) provides that no order under the Bill can apply to existing contracts or to any contracts made before the date on which an order under the Bill is made.
The Minister will know of the case I raised with him concerning a firm in my constituency which is worried about the operation of clause 1. The clause is clear, but is the Minister saying that as a matter of policy the Government do not intend to use their other powers so as retrospectively to affect contracts already made?
I shall deal with that point in a moment. The hon. Member raises the kind of constituency point that has been very much in our minds.
Subsection 2(2)(b) excludes contracts with banks or other financial institutions for the provision of banking or other financial services. Restrictions already operate in this area and have been in force since the end of last year, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear in the House. The restrictions have been in force on the basis of guidance to major British institutions. They have worked satisfactorily and it does not seem sensible to legislate where an existing arrangement is working quite well.
No; guidance in this context is guidance. The arrangements have been working satisfactorily. As Mr. Byrd, a current American politician, is in the habit of saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
One of my hon. Friends asked about medical supplies. They are excluded from the draft Security Council resolution which was vetoed. We do not intend to cover them by any order made under the Bill if it becomes an Act.
Will my hon. Friend clarify the position of British branches of American banks? We are introducing this Bill in support of our American allies. The President has frozen financial transactions between American banks and Iran. However, this Bill leaves banks in this country free. Are the branches of American banks liable under the Bill? What is their position?
My hon. Friend probably knows that this whole question trenches on a very old argument between ourselves and the Americans about the extent of their jurisdiction. I hope that my hon. Friend will permit me to leave this point to be dealt with by my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade, who is to reply to the debate. This is an extremely sensitive matter of jurisdiction which I should not want to pronounce upon off the cuff. I shall ensure, however, that my hon. Friend receives a reply before the debate finishes.
The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) asked about existing trade under existing contracts. This Bill gives the Government no power over existing contracts. Powers exist under the 1939 Act not over contracts but as regards the shipment of goods. No decision has been taken to use those powers. No decision would be taken unless it were clear that our main competitors were doing the same. If any such proposal were made, it would have to be submitted to this House for approval.
A number of contracts with Iran have existed over a period and have an option in them for renewal. If such a renewal came up, would that be treated as a new contract or as an existing contract?
We would have power under the 1939 Act to deal with that situation, but as regards shipment, not contracts. However, no decision has been taken to use such powers. No such decision would be taken unless others were doing the same, and any such decision would have to be submitted to this House.
One of the failures of sanctions against Rhodesia was that, although British companies were presumed not to be dealing with the illegal regime, they were acting through subsidiary companies in South Africa and elsewhere. Will the Bill cover contracts drawn up by British companies through subsidiaries abroad? Will any guidelines be issued to the banks not to provide financial arrangements for such subsidiary companies dealing with Iran?
The Bill is clear about the scope of its jurisdiction. It would extend to areas within the jurisdiction of Her Majesty's Government and to British nationals. This again trenches on the issue of jurisdiction raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney).
May I raise a point on clause 1(2)(0), which reads:
shall not apply to any contract with a bank or other financial institution for the provision of banking or other financial services"?
Surely the Exchange Control Act is in force, and surely that control would apply to all relevant financial matters in the case of Iran.
That is certainly true. I should have mentioned that of course the Exchange Control Act 1947 gives the Government powers in this area. At present, however, we are operating on the basis of the guidance that I have mentioned.
The central issue is that the case for the Bill rests on the need to preserve as best we can the health of the Alliance to which we belong. I know that that is not of compelling interest to some Labour Members below the Gangway who favour our breaking away from the Alliance, of pulling out of Europe and of running down our defences—
Before my hon. Friend reaches the general argument, there is an important point on the detail. For those of us who basically regard the proposition as nonsense, the argument must be that the Bill is only permissive and that the Government will have to place orders before the House before any action can be taken under its provisions. However, will not the orders come into effect before the House has a chance to debate them? Therefore, will not the decision that we are taking tonight determine what in practice will happen before the House could debate it?
I hope that the Bill is clear on that point. The undertaking I gave a few minutes ago brings the 1939 Act, as
it were, into line with the provisions of this Bill. The Bill provides:
An Order in Council under this section shall be laid before Parliament after being made and shall expire at the end of the period of twenty-eight days beginning with the day on which it was made unless during that period it is approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.
I think, therefore, that the misgivings of my hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) are not well founded because, though an order under this Bill, if it becomes an Act, could take immediate effect it would wither and die after 28 days unless it had by then been approved by both Houses of Parliament. I should have thought that in the circumstances that was a reasonable way of resolving the problem.
No; I must get on. I was trying to make the point—not in any offensive way—that hon. Members, in any part of the House, who do not believe in the Atlantic Alliance will, of course, be opposed to this Bill.
The case for this Bill rests on the need to keep the Alliance in good health. Many right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House attach importance to the Alliance and wish to see it kept in good repair. They have experience—
Many of those right hon. and hon. Members understand from experience how the Alliance works and what is needed to keep it in good repair. The right hon. Members for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) understand that. They understand the nature of the Alliance and how it functions, prospers and suffers day by day. That is at the heart of the matter and it is that matter to which I request the House to turn its mind.
It is understood that this is not an alliance between a master and a team of slaves. On the contrary, it is an alliance in which the members are continually seeking to advise and influence each other, particularly in moments of drama and of tension.
No; I intend to develop this point if the House will allow me.
That was an important part of the purpose of the visit of my noble Friend to Washington the other day. It was precisely to exercise, on behalf of Britain, the influence we possess in the Alliance. My noble Friend took that opportunity to urge strongly that the United States Administration should not be so preoccupied with, and so caught up in, the issue of the hostages in Iran, dramatic and personal though it is in the United States, that it ignored the wider realities and the other dangers in the world which, in the long run, may prove much more serious.
My noble Friend also took the opportunity to express our anxieties about the possible use of force on the simple ground that the Middle East is already in a state of such substantial turmoil that to add further to that turmoil by the use of force would be most unwise.
The Foreign Secretary further took the opportunity to stress the absolute need for consultation in these matters. I now choose my words with some care for reasons that the House will understand. The Foreign Secretary came back from that visit satisfied that the Americans are well aware of the concern of their allies about the need for consultation over any future military action and confident that the Americans will take full account of that concern.
It is certainly the job of a British Government in an alliance such as I have described—an alliance of free States—to seek to influence its partners and in particular perhaps the United States. But how are we to make that influence effective? What kind of influence is effective in such an alliance? Influence is exercised by those who make an effort. Influence is not available to those who do not make an effort, particularly in times of difficulty. Without effort there is no influence.
I believe that that is the essential case for this Bill. The United States—I am not sure that I blame it—does not have much use for the sort of weary sophistication into which Europeans are sometimes tempted. The United States is not likely to take advice when it comes from the depths of an armchair.
I cite a parallel here because I think it illustrates my point. When Mr. Attlee, as Prime Minister, went to Washington at a critical moment in 1951 he was able, as I understand it, to influence quite substantially the tactical, and some of the strategic, decisions of the United States about Korea. That visit has gone down in history as a success. Why? The visit was a success in part, no doubt, because of Mr. Attlee's powers of persuasion but also because at that time Britain had troops in Korea and was making an effort. I believe that it was the fact that we were making that effort that entitled Mr. Attlee to a voice which proved influential and decisive.
The circumstances in this case are different but I believe that the principle is the same. If this Bill is passed my noble Friend will be able to go to the meeting of European Foreign Ministers next weekend and say that we have carried out the obligations that we proposed for our part. The other Ministers will certainly proceed gradually. They will weigh whether there has been decisive progress and put all possible weight on diplomatic effort. Any sanctions they decide to recommend will be embodied, so far as Britain is concerned, in detailed orders giving details of the penalties which will have to be submitted for the approval of this House.
No; I am coming to the end of my speech.
This, I believe, is a cautious approach matched to the needs of the situation. It is sensitive to the authority of this House, and I believe that the Bill provides the Foreign Secretary with the assurance and undertaking that he needs. To sum up—
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Earlier he explained how he divided people into two groups—those who supported the Alliance, and therefore his Bill, and those who did not. Will he explain how he differentiates between the banks which will not be subject to the legislation and presumably support the Alliance and the rest of trade and industry which the Minister presumably regards as opponents of the Alliance because they need to be legislated for? Is that due to the unhappy experiences of the sanctions against Rhodesia?
I have tried to answer that point three times. Perhaps the hon. Member was not present at the time. The reason is that the banks and financial institutions are already operating, and have been operating for several months, under the guidance that they have received. Since that system is working satisfactorily, why should we tamper with it?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. As a matter of information, will he tell us whether the Japanese, who have just signed a contract for petroleum supplies from Iran, propose to introduce a similar policy? Can he say in one word whether he believes that this Bill will bring forward by one minute of one hour of one day the release of the hostages?
I have tried to deal with the second point and I am now trying to deal with the main case for the Bill which concerns the cohesion of the Alliance. In reply to the question of my hon. Friend about the Japanese, may I say that this Bill does not deal with oil; nor does the draft Security Council resolution on which it is based. The oil issue lies outside the ambit of this Bill. We are working closely with the Japanese on oil and other matters and the measures which the Japanese are prepared to take on exports are quite substantial.
The case for the Bill is clear. After five months of patience and five months of using diplomatic and legal procedures without success, the President of the United States approached us for help with the backing of the United States Congress and the United States people. All the major allies of the United States are ready to act in response. We believe that if we are to exercise substantial influence in the Alliance it is necessary that we, too, should be ready to act in response. If we were to say "No" to the President, if we were to say that our experience of Rhodesia was miserable and that we did not believe that such action would have the desired effect, however able our arguments, we would be administering a major rebuff on the most sensitive point of our major ally.
Anybody who believes that, having done that, we could pursue the argument for restraint against military action, for consultation, for fresh thinking about the Middle East and Arab-Israel, for examining the issue in the context of Soviet expansionism and for a sensible strategic approach and still have a substantial voice in Washington in expressing those arguments—which are soundly based—does not understand the present situation or the nature of the Alliance.
We are not the least of the United States' friends nor in the past have we been the last to show courage in upholding the Alliance. It is unthinkable that in this crisis we should be the first to hold back.
It would be foolish to disguise the fact that there are serious doubts and misgivings about the Bill on both sides of the House and inside the Government. That came through plainly in the Minister's speech. We should be as frank with ourselves and to each other as we can. Only after a serious discussion of the hostage problem and a possible solution can we hope to make a worthwhile contribution to their release.
The doubt in all our minds is whether, in existing circumstances, sanctions will help to achieve the purpose that we all share—the early and safe release of the hostages. I shall seek to explore that question and give my answer to it later in my speech. If there is doubt—and there is—about the means to achieve that end, let there be no doubt where our judgment lies and where our sympathies lie on the issue and the dispute.
The sequence of events began last November, when President Carter made available the facilities of a New York hospital for the deposed and desperately ill former ruler of Iran. That was sufficient, given the volatile passions in Iran, to provoke the students to their dangerous and fateful action of seizing the American embassy, to hold captive the 60 or so—now 53—residents, and to threaten them with public trials and summary execution.
That situation was one of great gravity, but its seriousness was enhanced when the students' actions received the open support of the most powerful man in post-revolutionary Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini. The rule—almost the only rule—that is universally accepted in international conduct is the duty of States to guarantee the inviolability of foreign embassies and their personnel. Diplomats can be reviled, rebuffed and expelled, but their persons, hitherto, have been secure. That is the clear duty of the host Government. That is a duty that we performed in London for the benefit of Iran only a week ago.
Our century has experienced two world wars and many ferocious regional wars. It has seen tyrannical regimes of the most odious kind. It has witnessed revolution and counter-revolution. Yet, until in Iran last year, no Government—not even Hitler's on the outbreak of the Second World War, or the Governments of Amin and Bokassa in their lunatic excesses, or revolutionary regimes as diverse as the Bolsheviks in 1917, the Chinese in 1950, Franco's in 1939 or Pinochet's in 1974—have committed this offence.
This rule of international behaviour, the guarantee of the personal safety of foreign diplomats, has been the lowest common denominator in international relations. It is easy to see why. Without it there cannot even be discourse between States, let alone the resolution of their differences.
The American response from 6 November until 27 April in the face of this unprecedented violation of international conduct is difficult to fault. The Americans sent their politicians to the Security Council and their jurists to the International Court. On 4 December the
Security Council unanimously resolved to call on the Government of Iran
to release immediately the peronnel of the Embassy of the United States of America, to provide them protection, and to allow them to leave the country.
On 15 December the International Court of Justice gave its unanimous verdict. It was:
The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran should ensure the immediate release, without any exception, of all persons of United States nationality, who are or have been held in the Embassy of the United States … And afford full protection to all such persons in accordance with the Treaties in force between the two States and with general international law.
The Iranian response to these high authorities was exactly nil. On 17 January the Security Council met again to vote on economic sanctions. Meanwhile, Afghanistan had intervened and the Soviet Union, supported by the German Democratic Republic, used its veto. Britain and France, together with Jamaica, Niger, Tunisia, Norway and Portugal, had no difficulty in casting their supporting votes.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations then went to Tehran. Shortly afterwards a mission of jurists from neutral countries reinforced his efforts there by opening the way for an inqiury into the Iranian allegations against the conduct of the Shah's regime and the United States' involvement in it. That was to no avail. They were permitted to see neither the hostages nor the Ayatollah.
The United States waited while the election of the Iranian president took place and then negotiated with him what might have been the first stage of the hostages' freedom—their transfer from the custody of the so-called students to the Government of Iran. President BaniSadr, elected by 75 per cent. of the popular vote, commanded the students to hand over their captives. However, he, too, was rebuffed and the Ayatollah backed the students.
Whatever may be said about past United States policy in Iran and about the crimes committed by the Shah's regime, there is a great irony in the events. The first American president for decades who was ready for a major change in policy towards Iran, who not only encouraged the Shah to bow before the winds of change but refused to bolster his regime, either with covert operations or with external force, was President Carter himself. The House may ponder how his predecessors might have responded. Yet in Qom and Tehran the most basically understanding president of post-war America is considered and described as a very satan of evil and imperialism.
That background seems to be essential for today's debate and for the consideration of the sanctions Bill. For 150 days, with the full backing of the International Court and the unanimous support of the Security Council, the United States waited patiently and explored every possibility of diplomatic action, without success. It was then, after the beginning of April, that the United States decided to increase the pressure by breaking off diplomatic relations with Iran, whose own embassy in Washington had remained protected and active throughout the whole period and, at the same time, to mobilise support among other countries to implement the economic measures that, but for the Soviet Union veto, would have been approved as long ago as 17 January.
The Foreign Ministers of the EEC met on 8 April and agreed to a two-stage approach—a joint diplomatic demarche in Tehran, to be followed by the imposition of economic sanctions on 17 May. I pause at this point because, in my view, that initiative was not the best way to proceed. The United States would have done better to return to the Security Council, in the light of the failure of the United Nations' further initiative, and to seek once more Security Council authority for economic measures.
If that had been vetoed for a second time, the United States could have turned to the General Assembly of the United Nations and sought the two-thirds majority that is required to activate the uniting-for-peace resolution. In returning to the Security Council, and through private diplomacy, it should have sought to involve the Soviet Union, in spite of all the difficulties, in the release of the hostages. The Soviet Union voted on 4 December for their immediate release, and the Government of the USSR know very well not only the dangers for others, including themselves, that this precedent could set, but that they would themselves not have tolerated for a moment similar treatment of their diplomats.
I do not wish to be diverted too far into that matter, but I believe—it is an important point for the House to consider—that in spite of the changes and the darkening of the international scene, it is vital for us all to remember that there are a number of issues in which East and West have a joint strong interest. We would be foolish indeed not to explore and not to make progress on those issues. We are still committed to the revival of detente. I believe that, in its own different way, that spirit is by no means dead in the Soviet Union.
The American Government did not take that course. I think that President Carter made a serious mistake in addressing a specific and limited appeal to a few West European Governments. It was a mistake, because the basic issue involved is not one that concerns uniquely the Western Alliance; it genuinely concerns the whole international community. To make a selective approach to allies was to push the issue into the old divisions between East and West and, therefore, to make less likely diplomatic co-operation from the Soviet Union.
Nevertheless, until three weeks ago I felt clearly that the balance of advantage lay with economic measures. As I told the House on 23 April, when the Minister reported to us, our view was that
the international community should join in diplomatic, political and economic, but not military measures to bring about their early release".—[Official Report, 23 April 1980; Vol. 983, c. 466.]
I went on to make three points: first, that the diplomatic initiatives should be increased; secondly, that the OECD and not the EEC was the right forum if sanctions were to have any serious effect; thirdly, that the United States should return to the Security Council and seek the help of the Soviet Union in its release effort.
Two days after that statement came the abortive and tragic rescue operation, and the resignation of Secretary Vance. Those two events inevitably affect our approach to the hostage problem. I do not censure the American administration for attempting to release the hostages, nor do I class that action, with its strictly limited release objective, as a military sanction against Iran itself, but its timing was deplorable in relation to other political initiatives then proceeding.
Both the failure of the mission and the fear, to which it at once gave rise, that it was only a precursor to other military actions inevitably brought about the opposition of most of the Muslim world and a widespread loss of support for and confidence in the United States in both non-aligned and friendly countries.
Those events called for a reappraisal of both tactics and timing. Unfortunately, the European Nine were already committed to a certain date—17 May—and that was reaffirmed, apparently without any great discussion, at the summit in Luxembourg last week. That is why we have the Bill before us today. We now need a cool appraisal. We must think especially about the mix of measures that could best assist the continued objective of the early and safe release of the hostages.
I do not accept the argument that support for the Americans in the form of economic sanctions should be given simply because Britain is their friend and ally. That was the underlying argument and theme of the Minister's speech. Indeed, he barely concealed his scepticism for the measures that he invited the House to approve. The fundamental lack of seriousness on the part of the Government was underlined by both the timing and the content of the Southern Rhodesia (Sanctions) (Amnesty) Order 1980, which the Government pushed through the House last Wednesday, the day before they published the Iran (Temporary Powers) Bill.
If we think that the Americans are wrong about Iran, either on the substance of the issue or on the proposed actions, we should say so. We owe it to ourselves to state clearly when we think that they are wrong. We should have done that in the past over such issues as Vietnam and Cambodia. Far from weakening the Alliance by doing so, we would have strengthened it. Nor do I accept the argument that the Alliance itself is so fragile that we must rush to agree, against our better judgment, in order to preserve it. To do otherwise than that is basically demeaning; worse, it is the old cold war approach. It is an approach based on such fear of the Soviet Union that all judgments must be subordinated to the overriding importance of agreement with our strongest ally. That would be the wrong reason to support the Bill. Equally, it would be the wrong reason to oppose it.
The main argument of many who oppose sanctions is precisely their overriding concern that action against Iran would alienate sympathy from the West and push Iran into the arms of the Soviet Union. I think that that is extremely unlikely but, once again, it is an approach that subordinates the judgment of the issue itself to the crude calculations of the old cold war.
Of course, it would be silly not to recognise that what has happened, and what may happen, in Iran, has implications for East-West relations, but short-term expediency and the belief that all issues must be judged against the touchstone of East-West power relationships is, in the longer-term perspective, the one thing that will surely weaken us in the real contest in which we are engaged.
My approach is a simpler one than that of the Government. I believe strongly in maintaining the fundamental rules of international conduct. The seizure of hostages by Governments is an offence that we cannot condone or accept. I would take the same view if it were 53 Chinese or 53 Russian hostages who were similarly incarcerated. I would certainly take that view if 53 British diplomats were involved. Not only that; I would expect and demand wholehearted support, in efforts to obtain their release, not only from friends and allies but from the whole international community.
I have an uneasy feeling that the Tehran hostages may not be a one-off case. There are other notoriously volatile regimes which may well be tempted to take similar action against diplomats or nationals who happen to be within their territory or within their power.
The right hon. Gentleman has made a powerful argument, to which we have listened with great care. However, surely the whole history of economic sanctions, wherever they have been applied, shows that invariably they have been counter-productive. On that basis, does the right hon. Gentleman really think that the application of sanctions in this instance is likely to convince others that they should not behave in the way in which the Iranians have?
In the last part of my speech, which I am just about to reach, I shall engage precisely that particularly difficult question. What I was really arguing was that I do not believe that we should do the right thing for the wrong reasons.
Now I turn to the question whether we are doing the right thing at all. I wish to make it plain that for me the Bill raises no question of principle. The doubt that remains is precisely the problem that the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) raised—that is, how effective can such action be? In themselves economic sanctions, unless they are applied by the great majority of the international community, will not be decisive. Sanctions applied by only some countries, although they include Iran's major suppliers in terms of the Nine, America and Japan, will, of course, have less effect. More weighty still is the consideration, to which a number of hon. Members have already referred, that in Iran we are dealing with such a confusion of authority, and such irrational forces—forces that many of us feel we do not even yet understand—that their response to measures that we take is bound to be unpredictable.
I have thought hard about these factors, all the more so because those views are held by many right hon. and hon. Members whose judgment I respect, but I believe that on balance their arguments are outweighed by other considerations. First, if we are to rule out military action—and we must—and if Security Council resolutions and International Court judgments are to have any meaning at all, we can use only diplomatic, political and economic pressures to see that they are abided by.
Secondly, they can, if judiciously used, have some influence on Iranian behaviour. There are different opinions and different forces operating in Tehran, and I believe that the more rational and civilised element will find their position strengthened by the knowledge that the illegal behaviour of the students and their sponsors is actively and seriously condemned by the international community.
Thirdly, I believe that these measures will help to cool the passions that have also been aroused in the United States. It is important that American opinion should know that in our judgment this is a matter for international concern and action, and not simply a United States-Iran private dispute.
I am influenced, too, by the fact that this is an enabling Bill and that we shall have the opportunity for further and full debate on the context and timing of any order that is made under it, or, as the Minister has promised, any action that is taken under the 1939 Act as well.
Therefore, I shall not oppose the Bill; indeed, I shall support it. But my strong view is that we should scrap the 17 May deadline, which was proposed against a background of very different events—before the release operation and before the resignation of Mr. Vance. To adhere to the old timetable, when Iranian xenophobia is still boiling in the wake of the helicopter debacle, would be counterproductive. Further, although we have made plain from the start our strong opposition to military action, we need the strongest assurance from the United States on this crucial point, and the assurance that even if the circumstances were radically to change there would be real consultation between the United States and its allies.
We should use the period immediately ahead for new diplomatic and political initiatives. In the next few weeks we shall have the formation of a new Government in Tehran—this may help—the further judgment of the International Court of Justice, the Venice summit meeting of the Seven and most important, the first meeting of the new Secretary of State, Mr. Muskie, with the Soviet Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Gromyko.
The "frank and honest dialogue" with the United States, which Tass this morning called for, should indeed include Iran as well as Afghanistan. No one can say at this stage what the outcome will be of these many but relevant events, but I am strongly of the view that it would be unwise to use economic sanctions until these further diplomatic and political initiatives have been explored. That is the message that I hope the Government will take to the meeting of the Council of Ministers on 17 May.
The right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) made a robust and powerful speech. I found myself very much in agreement with the early part of it but I rather feared that he would suggest doing nothing. However, the whole House should take careful note that he will support the Bill. On this issue it is extremely important to demonstrate, so far as possible, to the rest of the world a bi-partisan approach, perhaps along the lines that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. For that reason, I hope that many of his hon. Friends will follow what I thought was wise advice in all the circumstances.
It is sad that we should be considering this Bill at all. One might have hoped that the brave and brilliant activities of our troops in releasing the Iranian hostages in London would have created a response from Tehran that would have made the Bill and the debate unnecessary. However, that is not to be and we must look at the situation as it is.
All of us have anxieties about this measure. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade, who will reply to the debate, has great anxieties, because recently he has spent much of his time touring the world and encouraging trade with all nations. I pay tribute to him for that, but we must all look at our trading activities in the light of rather more serious matters.
Sanctions rarely work, and often they are counter-productive. They did not work against Germany in the 1920s, immediately after the 1914–18 War. Indeed, it could be argued that they contributed to the emergence of Hitler. They did not work against Mussolini's Italy in the 1930s over Abyssinia. In that case the gesture was important, given the circumstances of the time, and had it not been for Daladier's France ratting, sanctions might have been more effective. As we all know, sanctions were largely ineffective against Ian Smith's Rhodesia, but they were not wholly so.
Sanctions can sometimes cause more difficulty to those who impose them than to those upon whom they are imposed. Different consequences result for different nations. Whatever the Government do, the House will want to be assured that the burden of these sanctions will be shared reasonably equally between our various partners. For example, I am sure that the House will not want our friends in France to use this as an occasion on which to take commercial advantage under the umbrella of the sanctions arrangements.
There will be many opportunities to cheat. There is no question about that. Goods will undoubtedly slide through from certain Middle Eastern nations, via Dubai. There will be many loopholes. It is unthinkable that sanctions could be 100 per cent. watertight. However, the fact that sanctions may not be 100 per cent. watertight is not a reason for not embarking upon them or for saying that they will be totally ineffective.
Great concern has been expressed by the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar and others lest this action should drive Iran into the arms of Russia. It is feared that such action might enable the Soviets to meddle, in pursuit of their imperialist ambitions. Like the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar, I doubt whether that will happen. The fanatical Islamic revival is unlikely to embrace the bear, after events in Afghanistan. If we are frightened that that might happen, we shall be frightened of almost anything.
Although I know that many hon. Members are anxious about this matter, we should consider the context in which the Bill has been brought before us. The seizure and incarceration of accredited diplomats for more than six months, solely for the evil purpose of taking political revenge on a former ruler, represents an outrage of the worst order. As the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar said, that action is an affront to civilised behaviour everywhere.
I sometimes wonder why the media persist in saying that students have done this. I do not know what they are studying, but they will not pass many exams. It is high time that it was recognised that they are terrorists of the worst type. One has only to talk to the ordinary man or woman in the streets of America—as I did this year during two visits there—to appreciate the deep sense of shock and fury that is felt at such monstrous treatment of innocent fellow citizens. We sit here comfortably, yet we should ask ourselves how we would feel if our diplomats had been taken hostage in Tehran. How would we react? Would we like to be completely isolated? Would we want the Senate to say that it was difficult and that it was sorry to say that it was up to us, because it was too difficult for the Senate to attend to? We would rightly expect the Senate to put our friendship and Alliance first, regardless of details, of party interest, of who was Prime Minister, of which Government were in power or of who was President of the United States.
Cannot an historic example be found in Suez? As a nation, we acted wrongly. America believed that we had acted wrongly and told us to get out. If we were to behave as a good friend of America, would we not tell the American Government to watch it and to cool it—if we saw them acting wrongly—just as Secretary Vance did?
I shall not say who was right or who was wrong about Suez. I had been about to refer to Suez and to suggest that, whatever the rights or wrongs of the issue, we should set Suez aside and consider the situation today. Mere words are not enough. It is not enough merely to utter words deploring such action, without making any response.
The military solution has rightly been rejected. However, if one rejects a military solution, one is left with economic action. The right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar suggested that we might wait for the United Nations to respond. One might also deal with it on the more narrow basis of Europe. Whatever economic measures are taken, the fact remains that some alternative action must be taken if one is to demonstrate one's condemnation. If it is decided that sanctions should be taken, they should be taken no matter how crude they are or how many loopholes exist.
There is a deeper significance to be realised. Are we not prepared to sustain the Western Alliance, even with a gesture? Whether or not that gesture is wholly watertight or effective, should we not be prepared to make it? Are we not prepared to support a friend and ally who shares the same belief in freedom, in a time of need? Let people criticise America. Let them disagree with the United States of America. Let them argue and make the American Government see a different point of view. However, at the end of the day, are we not prepared to help the United States of America when it asks us to do so? It is unthinkable to spurn it in this way.
We do not know whether this action will have that effect. The hostages might be released if we did nothing. However, I do not take that view. Like the Americans, I believe that the hostages are more likely to be released and that peace is more likely to be preserved if there is solidarity between allies and friends. The House should set aside its past differences and irritations about what the Americans did or, did not do about Suez. It should set aside present discontent about some of the trading activities of the United States of America that have caused considerable irritation.
Europe is fond of prattling about democracy. In the Council of Europe one is always hearing about democracy. Let us and our European partners remember that there are 500,000 American graves in Europe. They demonstrate the price of the democracy that they enjoy. Let us remember that our defences have been protected since the war by the defence umbrella of the United States of America. We have been content that that should be so. In that context, the Bill is a very small price to pay in exchange.
The central issue concerns freedom. The late Somerset Maugham, who has recently been the subject of another scurrilous biography, made a wise comment in 1940. He lived in France, and he advised the British Government of the time of its decadence. To no avail he warned that it would collapse. He said:
If a nation values anything more than its freedom it will lose that freedom; and the irony is that if it values comfort and money more than freedom it will lose those too.
Given the doubts and misgivings, I still believe that we should look at a broader picture. If we wish to set an example to our friends in Europe, and if we value freedom above all else, the House will pass the Bill.
The Bill was commended to the House in a remarkable speech. I doubt if there are many parallels to be found of a Minister being so evidently miserable at opening a Second Reading debate. Ministers have opened Second Reading debates with greater and lesser amounts of enthusiasm, but they can rarely have done so much with such manifest distaste. It is to be hoped that the Minister's speech was not listened to, and that it will not be read, by either of the two groups to whom he claims it was directed. He refuted the argument that the Bill would influence the Iranians; and the Americans would have been ashamed and angry to hear how the measure was commended as a means of influencing the United States.
The speech of the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) was very different. The right hon. Gentleman traversed both bivalves of the Minister's argument with great force. He then arrived at the opposite conclusion to that to which his argument had led. Had his speech been handed down from antiquity in manuscript form, textual critics would have unhesitatingly distinguished Isaiah A in the first two-thirds of the speech from Isaiah B, a quite different person, who was responsible for the remainder.
In introducing the Bill, the Minister made no effort to justify it on the ground that sanctions would produce a specific and foreseeable effect. Indeed, his opening words, which were as remarkable as anything in his speech, were that this Bill was a Bill "for the good health of the Alliance". Nevertheless, as the House is being invited to place upon the statute book part of a framework—for some of the framework is apparently already there—under which sanctions can be imposed in connection with the taking of the hostages, it is not unreasonable to spend at least part of our time considering whether the economic sanctions which are—perhaps—to be levied under the Bill will conduce to that result.
I do not think that there is disagreement in any quarter of the House as to the general experience of economic sanctions as a means for altering the behaviour of the Government of the country against which they are levied. By now, all of us realise that even the apparent exception of Rhodesia proves the rule, since sanctions there, if effective at all, were effective only when, after the collapse of the Portuguese empire, military force and infiltration had filled the scene.
If that is true in general, if that is true of sanctions levied against Governments coldly pursuing a pre-determined course of action, how much more must it be so in the case of the Iranian Government, and of those varied groups who appear to exercise power in Iran. What is likely to be the effect upon those whose enthusiasms and beliefs have produced the revolution in Iran of hearing that a number of Western countries, linked perhaps with Japan, have decided to attempt, not indeed to starve them, but in some way to choke them by cutting off trade with them? I should have thought that, apart from anger and ridicule, the almost inevitable and foreseeable result would be to promote greater determination and greater pertinacity.
But then, we are not dealing with a single, collective, organised form of Government. As the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar said with great accuracy and force, we are dealing with a shifting scene, where one group after another appears to exercise power. What foundation can there be in those circumstances for thinking that we can select a particular group—there was the phrase used by the Minister introducing the Bill, "Give a signal" he said "to the sort of people who understand the realities of the outside world"—or for making the extraordinary supposition that we can identify a "sort of people" in Iran, and then target or beam this measure upon them, so as not only to persuade them but to give them the means of prevailing over the other forces at work in that country?
I am not at all surprised, because without being either Ayatollahs or mostly Muslims, I would imagine that, if the roles were reversed, that would be likely to be our reaction. Of course, we are not in the same position, we do not imagine ourselves in the same position; but if by any chance we heard that sanctions of this kind were being levied against this country, I think that might very well be the mood which would be stimulated and strengthened.
However, I will waste—for it is almost wasted—no more time upon traversing the effectiveness and practicability of sanctions, since indeed it is not upon that basis that we are asked to pass the Bill. We are asked to pass the Bill—I repeat the phrase—"for the good health of the Alliance". The argument has been produced in two phases by the Government. The first and more general aspect of it is that as we are allies and friends of the United States we should do whatever the United States wishes and asks us to do, even if we believe it to be unwise, futile and counter-productive.
First I want to ask, what is this Alliance? Our Alliance with the United States is in the framework of the North Atlantic Treaty. Now, it is no mere pedantry—though it is not a bad thing to be pedantic about the obligations and implications of an alliance—to point out that all these matters lie outside the scope of the North Atlantic Treaty. No territory involved in or covered by the North Atlantic Treaty is concerned in what we are discussing. So it is in only the very vaguest terms and in a different context that we are allies, and in a general sense that we are friends of the United States and are urged as such to take this measure because they want it.
It seems to me a poor and unacceptable argument to say that it can be the implication of alliance and friendship-even in that broadest sense—that one should do an unwise thing at the behest of one's friend and ally.
The vocabulary that I am being offered is already too luxuriant. The main point is this: do friendship and alliance oblige one to do an inherently unwise and counter-productive act because the friend and ally wishes it? I see nothing at all in the behaviour of the United States which would lead us to suppose that that is its interpretation of the meaning of friendship and alliance. Perhaps we ought to be grateful to them; but one can remember countless instances when we should have been very glad—indeed, there is a case in point at this day where this country is faced with considerable difficulties in its own territory—to receive support and assistance, both practical and vocal, from the United States. The United States does not, however, on its part consider that to be implicit in alliance and friendship.
Still, I thought the Minister felt the weakness and untenability of that interpretation. For his main case, if there was one, was that it was our duty to the Americans to dissuade them from unwise courses. Political, diplomatic and even economic action was advisable, while military action was profoundly inadvisable, both in the narrow and in the broad context. Therefore, we should dissuade them from any such thoughts by showing how ready we are to go along with them, even unhopefully, in the field of economic pressure.
That argument could have been put forward and listened to with some patience, though perhaps incredulity, a few weeks ago. But it was after the Government had already undertaken these measures, and after there had been a common agreement among the States of Western Europe to undertake them, that the United States, without consultation, without even offering information, engaged upon what is described as a resuce attempt.
Here I make a brief deviation to deprecate the application of inaccurate terminology to what the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar called the "rescue attempt". We are told that this was not a military action, that it was not a hostile operation, that it was simply a rescue operation. Of course to land helicopters and aircraft with troops in the middle of the territory of another country is a military and hostile act. I hope that no words or bowdlerisation of ours will result in anyone else think- ing that we would regard it as other than a hostile act if troops, aircraft and helicopters were landed in our territory. That is what we are talking about. But to return from that excursus, I say that that event completely destroyed whatever argument there was for this measure as a means to give us the power of influence, advice and persuasion over the United States. That event proved that no such influence—indeed, not even the normal courtesies of consultation and information—were to be obtained by our engaging in these measures
The Minister brought us the tidings of the right hon. and noble Lord the Foreign Secretary from Washington. Do the Government believe the Americans are such fools that they will attribute influence, power and persuasion to us because we are drawing the outlines of kid-glove measures which we openly say we do not believe are likely to be effective or to conduce to the release of the hostages? The analogy which the Minister drew with Korea was profoundly misleading. We are in the opposite circumstances today, and nothing that we do through this Bill will change them.
There is only one course that we can take which will in any way help the United States or the American victims of the revolution in Iran. That is for this House to be seen to abstain from measures which cannot produce the advertised result, which will be interpreted as acts of hostility by those to whom they are directed, and which will do nothing whatsoever to influence our allies against any course upon which, wisely or unwisely, they may decide to engage. I believe that the House should not pass this Bill.
I do not propose to follow the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) into speculations as to the situation inside Iran and the effect that the Bill might have. I agree with the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) that at this time it is proper that certain steps should be taken against violations of international law. For that reason I shall support the Government, whatever my doubts about the effect of sanctions, and whatever the failure of sanctions in the past.
There is good argument in the view that to support the United States' request at this stage has merit. The right hon. Member for Down, South said that all had been changed by the American military adventure in Iran. I agree with him that to call this a rescue operation is a misuse of precise language. This is a question not of a Suez, but rather of a Navarino, when the Duke of Wellington used the famous phrase "this untoward event."
That untoward event consisted of the British fleet allied to the French under Admiral Codrington blowing the Turkish fleet to smithereens. In the King's speech of that day the Duke of Wellington got His Majesty to announce that, despite this untoward and regretted event, he trusted that the interests of those persons who had suffered would fundamentally and swiftly be reconciled. If there be a political message in history—not that I wish to add knobs to the coronet of the Foreign Secretary—it is that the Duke's advice at that point would be wise advice today.
It did work. They got independence within a few years—remarkably quickly.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State made the point that there is influence which can be used and which I think the Foreign Secretary in his mission to Washington did use. I recall what our main objectives must be. Of course we should try to ensure that international law is preserved, but we should also recall to the President of the United States his first and proper reaction to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The question which was paramount to Western interests was the preservation of safety in the Gulf and the free flow of oil. I believe that that is what we should still above all else pursue.
I assume that what we are passing today will be relevant only if it is agreed by the other eight members of the Community. This is an enabling Bill from which will follow, one hopes, some common action by the Nine. For that reason, I believe that this is right. But I draw the attention of the Government and, indeed, of the whole House, to the immense dangers which now exist in the Persian Gulf.
If there should be an outbreak of hostilities between Russia and Iran, and if there should be an invasion of Oman by South Yemen, all these things would be different. But I foresee a continuing era of tension, in which untoward event, acts of terrorism, or other things not foreseen could result in a total stoppage of supply. That, as far as the West is concerned, is by far the most serious consideration, and I believe that we have some part to play here.
When the Nine have acted, as I suspect and hope they will act in defence of the general principle, they should also make it clear to the American Government at this stage any blockade or mining of Iranian ports would be counter-productive to the main object of Western policy, which is the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. Such moves would be not only counter-productive but unacceptable.
I believe too, that it is important that at future meetings the Foreign Secretary—the passage of the Bill tonight will give him some leverage in these matters—should move even further forward on the immediate problem of the protection and policing of the Straits of Hormuz. In this area one or two mines could block the whole of the West's oil supply and destroy the future of the West. It is for the moment—it will continue to be—under the sovereignty of the Sultan of Oman It is a channel two and a half miles wide. It is being policed by six patrol boats belonging to the Oman Government. There is no proper radar arrangement and no proper control of the area.
The Foreign Secretary has advanced the concept that there could be a neutralisation of Afghanistan. I think that the time has come to put forward a similar proposal for the establishment of a zone of peace, a cordon sanitaire, or an area of international control at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. It is difficult, but not unrealistic, to think in these terms. If anything were to go wrong in the area, the Western world as we know it would come to a grinding halt.
No. I have been speaking for only a short time.
My proposal would mean discussions with the Iranians, if there be an Iranian Government with whom we can discuss anything. To revert to the doctrine of Navarino, the one thing that we want to indulge in with the Iranians is some form of meaningful discussion. These issues could be kept at two separate levels—first, the total abuse of international conditions of normal diplomatic representation, and, secondly, the interests of all those in the area concerned.
Little though I personally believe in the effect of sanctions, I believe that they will have some effect on those who direct affairs in Iran. I believe that the Bill will provide a sound position for our pursuit of the general interests of the West in following the main policies laid down by President Carter—namely, to ensure that the flow of oil from the Gulf shall not be interrupted.
I do not intend to keep the House long. I listened to the speech of the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) and I agreed with almost every word that he said, save for one conclusion, to which I shall refer.
Despite all the recent events, including the abortive attempt to release the hostages, I think that we should show unanimity with the United States. That is one of the sounder reasons for supporting the Bill.
The Minister will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston), who usually speaks on these matters, cannot be with us tonight. He wrote to the Foreign Secretary in November 1979 to say that he felt strongly at that time that the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran was a single barbarous act that broke the
basic principle of international relations built up over hundreds of years.
He asked the Foreign Secretary
urgently to initiate a common approach, in the first instance by the countries of the European Communities and later at the United Nations.
He also felt that the Ayatollah
should be told clearly that if he continues to undermine the whole basis of civilised conduct between countries, Britain will withdraw her diplomatic representatives and call upon all other countries to do likewise.
That was last November. With hindsight, I believe that it is a pity that we did not take that initiative then. I am
aware of the reasons why no initiative was taken. The Government wished to keep their attitude open. However, with the benefit of hindsight perhaps we should have reacted more spontaneously. The USSR was supporting the Americans at that time, so had we taken an initiative the result might have been more conclusive.
The right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar called for meaningful talks with the Soviet Union, and I support him in that. I welcome the forthcoming meeting between Mr. Muskie and Mr. Gromyko—although perhaps the talks should have been at an even higher level. Despite everything that has happened in Afghanistan, those talks should go on. They should not be allowed to break down when the world is in a perilous situation. There is great need for meaningful discussions.
I recognise that sanctions are no more likely to work here than elsewhere. Such action may well concentrate the Islamic nations behind Iran. The sanctions are unlikely to affect those holding the hostages. However, they may have some influence on the recently elected members of the Iranian Parliament and its diplomats, who have some recognition of world order. It is also possible that sanctions will make the task of those moderates more difficult. We do not know.
However, when our true friends ask for help, we should respond. The feeling has been building up in America that the West is not doing all that it should and has been hedging its bets. That feeling prevailed before the abortive attempt to free the hostages. Now, more than ever, is the time to show understanding of the American position. We should demonstrate that we realise what the Americans are trying to do. They have made every effort to reach a satisfactory solution through diplomatic means. They could possibly try again, but that is asking a lot. The situation has continued for a long time. It is an outrageous act to continue to hold the hostages.
The measure will be of some assistance in this respect, although I hope that the Bill's implementation can be postponed. But we must show that we understand the American position and are prepared to back America, even though we doubt the effectiveness of sanctions. We should not forget the debt that we owe the United States in two world wars, the Marshall Plan and the NATO shield that we have lived under for the past 30 years. We should not forget American help and generosity. With all our reservations, the least that we can do is show our resolve to stand with the Americans now. I therefore support the Bill.
All hon. Members must have great sympathy with the Americans in their predicament. Here is the most powerful nation in the world having a snook cocked at it, perhaps by a country but more particularly by a group of so-called students.
In spite of the backing of the International Court, the United Nations and the vast majority of countries, the Americans have so far been unable to achieve their objective of obtaining the release of the diplomatic hostages. Against that background, one cannot fail to have great sympathy with their sense of frustration.
Nevertheless, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State said in almost his first sentence, this is not a cheerful Bill. We must all have doubts and misgivings about the effectiveness of what it proposes. The long title of the Bill refers to the fact that it enables
provision to be made in consequence of breaches of international law by Iran in connection with or arising out of the detention of members of the embassy of the United States of America.
I believe that in practice we must draw a distinction between the Iranian Government and the so-called students. Legally, Iran is undoubtedly in the wrong, but in practice the Iranian Government are not in control of the situation in their own country. Therefore, in practice a distinction must be drawn between reality and the Government's ability to control it.
Against that background, one must ask whether sanctions would have any effect and whether they are appropriate. In principle, I am not opposed to sanctions. Sometimes they help to achieve an objective. In Rhodesia, the application of sanctions assisted in bringing about a solution, but it took 14 years and if sanctions had been the sole pressure put on that country no solution would have been found by now. It was sanctions, together with the oil price increases and the war, which led to the miraculously peaceful situation in Rhodesia today.
Only a few weeks ago the House supported a type of sanction by voting for a boycott by the British Olympic team of the Olympic Games in Moscow. If that is not a sanction I do not know what is. This House decided that it would be in the interests of this country and the free world to apply that boycott with the intention of persuading the Russians to reconsider their Afghanistan policy.
That may well be so, but I suspect that everyone in the Strathclyde area will not be so happy about that decision. Whatever has been done by the Strathclyde council, the House decided by an overwhelming majority that this sanction should be applied to Russia.
In certain circumstances, sanctions of one sort or another may be acceptable and may produce results. Nevertheless, I doubt whether they are appropriate in this instance as a means of advancing the interests of the American hostages. One must ask whether they will have a direct effect on the Iranian people. It seems unlikely that many of them will know of the existence of sanctions. Even if they do, we should not forget that the resurgence of Islam is coupled with a desire to return to a simpler form of life and sanctions will advance that desire if they are effective.
Will sanctions have an effect on the Iranian Government and strengthen those who wish to help with the release of the hostages? It seems more likely that sanctions will undermine those who wish to assist. What is more, by imposing sanctions on one Islamic country, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that other such countries will feel that they must support their friend in need.
Of course, there is a danger that sanctions may push Iran further towards the Russians. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) that that is unlikely, but it is not impossible, particularly against a background of the political shambles within Iran. Furthermore, I cannot help recalling that before the Iranian revolution we were concerned with strengthening Iran as another bulwark against Soviet aggression. The revolution initially weakened Iran as an ally and we are apparently considering trying to weaken her further. We have to ask whether that is wise. I doubt whether it is.
However, in spite of all my reservations, it seems right that we should support our American friends in need, both in order to help them to uphold international law and to assist them in securing the release of the hostages. As has been said so often, we owe the Americans a tremendous debt, which we cannot properly repay. Perhaps more important, if we do not pass the Bill we shall rule ourselves out of court with the American Government and people. If we do that, we shall remove any chance of our influencing the course of discussions about Iran and about the application of sanctions.
Therefore, in spite of all the misgivings and doubts that I and so many others share, I believe that we should give the Bill a Second Reading.
There can surely have been few debates in which so many speeches have been full of good analysis of the problems facing us and yet have come to conclusions that are contradictory to that analysis. The speech of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) was a good example.
I listened with care to the Minister of State for some sign of the objectives that the Government hope to achieve. Surely it must be recognised that there are at least two important objectives of British policy—to secure the release of the hostages and to restrain the United States from further military action that might endanger the peace of that part of the world, if not of the whole world. I found it disturbing that neither objective figured in the Minister's speech as a reason for the Bill.
The Minister did not say that the Bill would help to secure the release of the hostages and he certainly did not say that it would help to restrain the United States from further military adventures.
How does the Bill measure up to those two objectives, which should be important aims of British foreign policy? I do not think that any hon. Member who takes part in the debate will deny that sanctions by a few countries against another will be almost completely ineffective in practical terms, whatever their psychological impact.
Sanctions are likely to be opposed by a number of States in the area. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, I have just returned from that part of the world. We were discussing the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, but we naturally took the opportunity to discuss with politicians, officials and business men the possibility of sanctions against Iran and a possible blockade of that country.
It is clear from talking to people on the spot that there is no way in which sanctions themselves can possibly have any real influence on securing the release of the hostages. Sanctions by themselves will soon be seen to be ineffective. There will then be a strong temptation for the United States to indulge in a sea blockade of Iran. That will require very little further action by us or the United States. The United States already has a large naval presence in the area. It will be easy to mount a sea blockade.
Even sanctions, reinforced by a sea blockade, are not likely to be effective. As has been stated during the debate, a great deal of smuggling already takes place across the Gulf from Dubai into Iran, even before sanctions are introduced, merely because the regime in Iran is letting the economy run down. There is still a great deal of money around. That money is being used to obtain consumer goods that are easily evading customs regulations. The Gulf has a long history of smuggling over the centuries. Sanctions and a blockade will help create a few more millionaires in an area already over-populated by millionaires.
A blockade will be needed quickly to reinforce sanctions if they are introduced. It is clear that such a blockade will be extremely difficult to operate. Under the terms of the Bill, only goods that are sent to Iran in pursuance of a new contract can be blockaded, whereas goods sent to Iran in pursuance of an old contract, if I may use the expression, will be allowed through. One can imagine the confusion and the difficulties that will arise.
Sanctions, reinforced by a sea blockade, are likely to be counter productive, not merely in terms in which hon. Members have already spoken, but in terms of strengthening the revolutionary and the nationalistic feelings of the population of Iran and reinforcing the strength of the central Government, which some people might think would be no bad thing. On the other hand, it might well make Iran a much stronger and more determined opponent of the release of the hostages. Furthermore, sanctions, reinforced by a blockade, will be extremely dangerous. I am disappointed that a Foreign Office Minister should not have dwelt on this possibility in the course of his speech.
There is obviously the risk of some form of armed conflict, since sanctions will be taking place in an area where Iran has fairly strong naval forces. One recalls the Bay of Tonking incident, some years ago in Vietnam, which led to further United States intervention in that unhappy land, with results that are well known. If sanctions are followed by a blockade, there is also a serious risk of disruption of oil supplies to the West. It ought to be a major objective of British and Western foreign policy to ensure that these are not interrupted or disrupted.
Last, but by no means least, sanctions, followed by a blockade, will introduce a further destabilising factor into an area that has already been seriously destabilised by the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, by the events in Iran and by the various border disputes, particularly between Iraq and Iran. The only nation that will gain any advantage from such further destabilisation will be the Soviet Union, and not Britain or the Western Alliance.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the pressures on the United States Administration for some kind of military action, the disadvantages of which he has been putting lucidly, will be very much greater and arise very much more quickly if we rebuff the request incorporated in the Bill?
I thank the Minister for that intervention, because it coincides with the next point that I wish to make. The second objective of British foreign policy should be to restrain the United States from further military adventures. I take the hon. Gentleman's point. How do we restrain the Americans? Had the abortive rescue attempt not taken place when it did—here I take the point made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) about its appalling timing immediately after the EEC countries had agreed to sanctions—one would have been prepared to look at a Bill on sanctions, preferably under United Nations auspices, as a means of restraining the United States. The United States has already shown that it was not restrained from making the abortive rescue attempt by the fact that there had already been agreement among the EEC countries to help by supporting sanctions.
Surely sanctions, if they go through, will be seen as a half-hearted, meaningless charade. Is that not likely to strengthen the feelings of frustration and impotence in the United States and lead to an explosion of feeling to be expressed, perhaps, in the form of further unforeseen military adventures? Surely the time to say "No" is at the top of the slippery slope, not half-way down it.
In the brief 10-year period during which I have been a Member of this House I cannot recall a more ludicrous proposition being put forward by a Government of any party. The Government are seriously embarrassed by having to bring the Bill forward. We can help them and save them from further embarrassment by rejecting it in the Lobbies tonight.
The hon. Member for Waltham Forest (Mr. Deakins) delivered an interesting and enjoyable speech. He outlined two factors in the main divisions of his speech which are central to what we are discussing, namely, the fear of military action—my hon. Friend the Minister of State dealt with that—and the need to restrain the United States. As I understood my hon. Friend's speech, it was a plea—at times almost a desperate plea—to this House on somewhat weak ground, not of the Government's choosing, to remain in a position where we can influence—he used that word repeatedly—the United States of America.
There is no question at the moment of military action, and the Government's position has been made very clear. There is a feeling, probably on both sides of the House—although no one is in complete agreement and we are all in the Isaiah A and Isaiah B situation—that the strength of public pressure in the United States is such that if that country is let down by its Western Allies when someone is cocking a snook at it, the most powerful nation in the world, that could lead to extreme action. I therefore fundamentally disagree with the conclusion reached by the hon. Member for Waltham Forest, on the ground that my hon. Friend the Minister of State pointed out to him. This is a vital and central point, and is one of the reasons why I support the Bill, although when I get to Isaiah B I may very well say a lot about it with which the hon. Member for Waltham Forest will agree.
I support the Bill on the ground of Western Alliance solidarity—nothing more, nothing less. It is important that we have a certain sympathy for the Government here, because this position is not of their making. The House should be sophisticated enough to grasp that. This is not a cheerful occasion or a cheerful Bill, and when we talk about continuity I suggest to the hon. Member for Waltham Forest that this is perhaps the best way in which we can get the Americans off the sort of hook that he feels will lead them into military action. That is another substantial reason why I support this measure, although I dislike it as much as many other hon. Members do.
I reiterate, in dealing with the solidarity argument that feeling in America is extremely intense. As we sit or stand here making our contributions, we must surely feel for them in their time of trial. The feeling that I have spoken of is expressed through the whole range of American society, from students to pensioners. The United States—a nation that has gone through the traumas of Vietnam—is now, suddenly, more potentially aggressive than it has been for many years. We should take note of that. There is the added fact that if we ignore the Americans at this time—quite apart from influencing them—they may well say "Europe can look after itself. We are not interested. We will look after ourselves." We should realise how utterly dependent we have been upon the United States since the Second World War.
It is no use finessing the situation with luxurious arguments such as those put forward by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) about police pistols in Northern Ireland, lamentable though the electoral conduct of the Americans has been over that issue. We are in a different league here.
Having dealt with the possibility of more violent action resulting from the present situation, there is another point that we should bear in mind when we decide how we proceed with this measure and when we consider the solidarity argument and the Americans. We must bear in mind that the status of America in the world is not riding high at the moment. That is a large measure of the trouble in which we find ourselves, though we are not responsible for America's status. America's status is its own problem.
However, at the end of the day we will suffer if America is dragged down. America will become the laughing stock of every bazaar in Iran and the Middle East—particularly in the developing world—if it cannot, to a reasonable extent, bring its Western Allies with it on this issue. If its Western Allies were not to go along with America, that would diminish its power to a tremendous extent. It is all very well for hon. Members below the Gangway to laugh. They are as dependent upon the protection of that power as is any Conservative Member.
Having dealt with my reasons for supporting the Bill and the price of that support—since nothing in politics is without price—I think that there should, at least, be some further indication from the Government of where we are going in relation to Iran and South-West Asia. There has been some indication from my hon. Friend.
The West in general—and I include the United Kingdom—has been stumbling into situations, with the result that lamentable and not particularly cheerful measures such as this become necessary and where people like myself have to stand up and justify such measures. I do not relish having to do that. It would, therefore, be encouraging if we knew that the seriousness of the overall situation was appreciated. Perhaps the Government Front Bench could furnish that information and perhaps an acknowledgement that we have not got it right up to now. Perhaps we can demonstrate a determination—which the Americans will agree with as much as anyone else—that we intend to get it right in future.
We are now getting the worst of all worlds in relation to Iran. This Bill is an example of that. We have spent the time since the Iranian revolution—in particular since the taking of the hostages at the beginning of November—in supporting the moderate elements in Iran. That has been the whole purport of Western policy, and as I understand it, it has been our policy to encourage the Americans in a moderate course.
We do not need to discuss the sequence again but suddenly, almost in a flash at Easter, that whole policy was undermined as we went through the gamut of sanctions, involving Europe in support of those sanctions, the rescue bid and now this Bill.
Having said that we are getting the worst of all worlds, having lost the opportunity and proper timing for strong action, and just when the moderate course—I did not always support that course—was yielding dividends, we are immediately plunged into measures of the sort that have brought us here today.
I turn to the effect of sanctions. There is a view, which is subscribed to by the Government—the giving of a signal—and it is the prevailing American view, that somehow the moderates, who are weak enough, will be able to point out the realities to the clerics and the more extreme elements in Iran. The view is that sanctions will allow them to argue that because they cannot obtain a particular part for a jeep they must do what the Americans want them to do. The two sanctions that would hurt them most are excluded. I refer to food and medical supplies. The sanctions planned by Europe, if this Bill is an indication, will give the Iranians enough avenues for them to exist without undue worry and trouble in spite of full American sanctions. I say that deliberately and I mean it.
The long-term effect is also important. Sanctions will widen the considerable gulf between the Iranian revolution and the United States of America. Western Europe is involved in that gulf. They will weaken the moderates and the road to a final solution. If sanctions become successful they will hasten the day of the final Iranian revolution.
I do not believe that sanctions will be successful. That is one of the reasons why I feel able, on solidarity grounds, to support this measure. It is not as simple as saying that the Iranians will be pushed into the Soviet Union's arms and that there might be great military action. If the revolution is allowed to continue as it is, it will automatically take Iran towards the Soviet sphere of influence without the Russians doing anything. One of the regrettable aspects of the measure is that it shows that there is no overall policy to prevent that happening. That is the seriousness behind the remarks that I address to the Front Bench.
My hon. Friend is an expert on that part of the world. Does he believe that it would be better for Western influence if it were felt that the attitudes of the United States and Europe were the same? Alternatively, would it be better if there were a distinct view that European policy was different from American policy?
I appreciate my hon. Friend's question. Ironic as it might sound, underneath there is a desperate call from Washington for Europe to do more in the Middle East and the world at large. Ministers will know that to be so. It is part of the dissatisfaction that is growing because we have sheltered under the American umbrella for a long time. The stage is set for Europe to play an independent and separate role, but within the Western Alliance. That is the only difference between my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) and myself on the issue, and it is a difference of inference.
It is important that, in solidarity, we not only back the United States but become a more positive influence on the United States. The conduct that brought us here is the subject of much criticism. Europe can perform a real role. It is important that British influence leads to that role and that it is exercised within the Alliance. If we kick America when it has need of us there will be no Alliance in the end. Europe and the Western Alliance without America is as nothing.
I find myself in an odd position. I am asked to vote for a Bill which, I am assured by many of its supporters, will not do any damage because it cannot work but will have a restraining influence upon the military proclivities of our major ally in the Western Alliance.
Quite frankly, such a Bill is in no sense a Bill at all: it is a declaration. Had the Government presented to us a motion declaring our contempt for the political organisation—they are not students, as the Minister well knows—which kidnapped the hostages and still holds them, stating that we condemn that sort of actions and that we as a House support all the attempts, through diplomatic and other means, to bring about their release. I should vote for the Bill. But I might, in return, expect from the great Power that I am told has been protecting me for so many years a resolution passed through both Houses of Congress condemning the terrorists who are tormenting the citizens of a certain part of the United Kingdom, namely, Northern Ireland. Let us have a little tit-for-tat in the Alliance if it is to remain an alliance.
We have heard a good deal of waffle about how grateful we should be for what the Americans did during the war and what they have done since. In politics, gratitude is an emotion to be encouraged upon occasions. But if I were to allow my actions to be dictated entirely by gratitude, I should have to vote Communist at the next election because 20 million Soviet soldiers died to destroy Nazi Germany. We should not conduct our political discussions in the House in that way and in those terms.
Why do I call the Bill, as I do contemptuously, a scrap of paper? Because the Minister himself knows quite well that sanctions invariably produce the opposite effects to those intended. We could go through history and pick one or two examples such as the rigid sanctions imposed upon Napoleonic Europe, backed by the most effective naval blockade in history—the wooden walls that guarded every French port. What happened in Napoleonic Europe as a result of that form of sanctions and blockade? Did scientific progress cease? Did the population drop? I expect that it dropped a little after battles. Did the economy collapse? Above all, did the power and authority of Emperor Napoleon diminish by one iota? It did not.
It is tragic that we continually find soldiers talking more sense than politicians. Sir John Glubb, creator and leader of the Arab Legion, wrote in The Times recently that, when we make war against revolutions, instead of calming them we make them more revolutionary. It happened in Russia in 1917. That could have been a Menshevik revolution. Lenin himself anticipated no more than a bourgeois revolution and had no conception of a leap forward into Communism or Socialism. Outside intervention did its work and produced the State with which we now have to live.
There are other examples of the denial to people of the means of life, by however small a degree, intensifying the feelings that prompted them to make the revolution in the first place.
I happen to know a little about Iran. I have not been there recently, but I was there during certain interesting negotiations which were being conducted between the Shah and the leaders of the Soviet Union, to which I shall refer briefly later. However, in Iran we have so confused a revolution that possibly the most intelligent intelligence officer in our employment cannot yet decipher its outlines or predict its outcome. Part of it is revolutionary in the Western sense of the term and talks of Socialism and taking over property and the oil wells, and part of it wants to go back to the thirteenth century and the purity of Islam as it was assumed to be in the thirteenth century. Mullah is against mullah, ayatollah is against ayatollah, party is against party and the last election produced an absolute goulash of a result which will make it impossible for any kind of firm government to operate for a time in Iran.
But nature abhors a vacuum. Someone must get the tramways running. Someone must keep the sewage moving through the pipes. The apparatus of ordinary life must be maintained. Therefore, public order must inevitably prevail, because it is as much a necessity as food and drink.
Although I say it with certain reservations—I am inclined to believe that assemblies such as our own, with all the good will in the world, may muck up this process—I expect that revolution gradually to lose its fierce, fanatical Islamic character and simmer down into something like a normal kind of revolution—not very pretty, not manned or staffed by people with whom one would care to go to dinner, but nevertheless running a country in a revolutionary way which is different from the way of the Shah.
Then we may get a government, and with such a government we may be able to negotiate. When I use the collective pronoun, I do not refer simply to ourselves and the United States, and still less to those who will be voting in the next primary election—with which I do not doubt the Bill has a little to do. I am talking about the world community. I am talking about those States which belong to the United Nations—those international organisations which were listed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore). They can have something to say and they will be able to get the hostages out.
That may take a long time. Other American hostages have been held in the Far East. It took a long time to get them out, but in the end they were got out by negotiation with people who were red in tooth and claw, if Conservative Members like that kind of description. If these sanctions were to be applied, if the Bill were to become a reality, and if as a result the Iranians felt "The whole world is against us. Once it was only the Americans, but now it is the whole Western world, and we have done business with them", what do they do? They may say that we supported the Shah. But, even though the Shah was not the worst of all despots, he was certainly no democrat. The Shah might appear to make a good gesture if he sent back some of the money as a first instalment towards the release of the hostages.
The average Iranian thinks that the whole world is against him. However, he will hear a voice from the North, from comrade Brezhnev. Mr. Brezhnev might even learn the language in order to tell the Iranians that the whole world is not against them and that Russia has never been against them. He might point out that agreements were concluded with the previous Government, in the belief that the Shah had been introducing modernisation and the use of progressive methods.
I do not wish to be accused of romancing. I have an article that has been written by an Iranian who is deputy to the director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The pamphlet deals with the Soviet Union and the Persian Gulf. It lists other trade agreements, and demonstrates that differences of ideology and of religion never interfered with business between the Shah and leaders of the Soviet Union. He pointed out that the Soviet Union had an agreement to pipe Iranian gas which was flaring uselessly into the atmosphere into the Soviet Union and Comecon countries. As some hon. Members may know, there are few better bargainers than hardened Communists.
In 1975 Iran reached an agreement with West Germany, France, Austria, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union to embark on an ambitious project. It was agreed that 13·5 billion cubic metres of Iranian gas should be piped through the Soviet Union into West Germany and other Western countries at less than world prices. It was a great deal. The first stage involved $3 billion. An installation was constructed at Ispahan. No doubt this information is in the Library. It is extremely instructive and shows that the Soviet Union was ready to collaborate with the Shah. It shows that the Soviet Union is ready to collaborate with the Ayatollah if he and his followers are driven to near desperation by the imposition of sanctions.
Have we not come to a pretty pass if we enact a Bill in the hope that we shall be able to restrain an ally from engaging in military action which may start a chain reaction engulfing the whole world? This legislation is meaningless. We are discussing sanctions that can have no effect. They cannot be applied without a blockade. We are discussing measures that will have the opposite result to that intended. We are talking about words which will not release a single hostage from a cell. Finally, we are talking not about solidarity with our strongest ally but of restraining our strongest ally from military action. Are we in the House of Commons or are we in a lunatic asylum? I sometimes wonder.
I think that the whole House has listened with attention to the informed and interesting speech of the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Fletcher), with whom, some years ago, I travelled in part of the Middle East. Early in his speech, the hon. Gentleman laid it down as a principle that sanctions always produce the opposite effect to that which was intended by those who applied them. I am not quite sure, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman voted against sanctions against Rhodesia. I did.
I have not been conspicuously enamoured of economic sanctions. I expressed my opposition to sanctions against Rhodesia even before they were imposed—I am on record—and I was consistent in that point of view, not to my advantage. However, as my hon. Friend the Member of State observed, Iran today offers no comparison with Rhodesia.
Modern times afford no parallel—perhaps no times in history afford one—for so outrageous and callous a breach of the rules of international law as the seizure and holding captive of the American hostages. As was said so well from the Opposition Front Bench by the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), peaceful diplomacy rests on reverence at least for the persons of ambassadors and respect for the missions of foreign States, and the Western Powers—but not only the Western Powers—should stand together to register their repugnance at the flouting of the Vienna convention, which regulates diplomatic relations in this act of international banditry.
I rather agree with the hon. Member for Ilkeston who said that this is not so much a Bill as a declaration. It is an enabling Bill. By passing it tonight, we shall not be taking any measures of sanctions, but if it is enacted, the Bill will enable Her Majesty's Government to act in concert with Her Majesty's allies, and I hope with other countries as well, in accord with what was decided by the European Foreign Ministers in Brussels on 22 April. I stress the European commitment and European solidarity in the course of action proposed.
Of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) was quite right when he said that there must be no taking advantage of partners if Orders in Council are laid under the Act—if the Bill becomes an Act.
My hon. Friend talks about the importance of European solidarity. I think that he will recall that our partners in the Community were equally honour-bound in terms of the observance of sanctions against Rhodesia, but it did not seem to work out that way.
The cases are different, as I have said. I hope that there will be European solidarity in this matter.
It is said that we ought to be chary of supporting the United States because on this side of the Atlantic we stand to lose more by sanctions than would the Americans. In the last decade, Iran became one of the United Kingdom's biggest markets—I think the largest in Asia. I hope that the Minister of State will say something about that in his reply. He may be able to confirm that our trade with Iran has recently been reviving. Now we are being asked to place it in jeopardy, and even to cut it off.
We on this side of the Atlantic stand to lose more by sanctions. On the other hand, it may be thought strange that 35 years after the end of the Second World War we are still relying on the United States to provide the military protection both of Western Europe—or that part of Europe that is still free—and of interests in the Gulf and the Third world that are more important to Europeans than to Americans. Here I answer the pedantry, the expression of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who laid great stress on the narrow boundaries of the North Atlantic Alliance.
It is an anomaly that we should rely so heavily on American military protection. Why do we do so? We in Western Europe are more productive than the Soviets; we are more advanced in science and technology than the Soviets; and we outnumber them. Nevertheless, we have been readier to will the end of a greater independence within the Alliance than to will the means. The means are rearmament and the sacrifices that that will impose.
This Bill is required—no one has made any secret of it—by the volatile and emotional state of United States opinion. This Bill is required by the indispensable Alliance, but an alliance runs more than one way. I am glad that the hon. Member for Ilkeston referred to Northern Ireland. The Minister of State, Foreign Office expressed the hope that this measure would gain us influence in Washington. But let him, let the Foreign Office, press for a redress of inequities in our relations. Let them be corrected. Let the Royal Ulster Constabulary be provided with the hand guns that it requires to protect itself and its fellow citizens. Terrorism is terrorism, whether it takes place in an American embassy or in Northern Ireland.
I repeat that this is an enabling Bill, and I hope that it will not have to be followed by the laying of orders that are harmful to mutual commerce. We are in a moving situation. British soldiers, police, firemen and others have earned the admiration of the House and the world by risking their lives to save Iranian hostages. Tehran should be prepared to listen to London.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) mentioned the Straits of Hormuz. I was there recently, and flew by helicopter quite close to the Soviet warship that always lies in anchor on the edge of the waters of the Sultanate of Oman, to which my right hon. Friend also referred. It may or may not be of comfort to hon. Members to know that the guns in the Soviet ship that I saw were covered up, and that half the ship's company were sunbathing and the other half were playing volleyball. The Straits of Hormuz—the North bank of which is Iranian, of course—are of great importance.
I certainly commend to the House what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone. A President of the United States, more distinguished than some since, believed in speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Equilibrium in this important region calls for Western maritime and military forces, to which the British and other European navies should contribute. If that be a thick stick, it is no more than is required by the balance of power, and, indeed, the integrity of Iran, which is in danger of disintegration stimulated from the Soviet Union.
Reverting to the homely adage of President Theodore Roosevelt, I hope that the soft speaking will be left to European and Muslim Governments. I trust that private diplomacy is at work as we debate the Bill this evening and that Her Majesty's Government are enlisting help from friendly Muslim States. Most of them have been appalled by the taking of hostages in Iran. I am not surprised at that.
I think that I am the only hon. Member in the House who has served an independent Muslim Government. Admittedly, Pakistan is a predominantly sunni rather than shi'a country.
We have heard a number of generalisations about Islam. It is dangerous to generalise about any of the great religions. Christianity has a Pope. Christianity has the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). Similarly, Islam is divided. The hon. Member for Ilkeston correctly spoke of the quarrels in Iran between rival religious leaders.
Perhaps I could quote a few words by King Hussein:
I am deeply disturbed when I see actions in the Muslim and Arab worlds that are totally alien to its teachings. We are taught to protect foreigners and their property, even in a state of war. Foreign emissaries have always been respected and protected. It is the sacred duty of the state and society to do so. I cannot help but conclude that we have been penetrated by alien forces, acting under the guise of Islam. These forces seek to destroy Islam and the strength it gives Muslims to survive against foreign ideologies.
I have a suspicion that the so-called students in this crime are more amenable to the small but disciplined Tudeh Party, and therefore to Moscow, than to Tehran or even to Qom.
The USSR, supported by the GDR, vetoed the United Nations Security Council resolution that would have given practical effect to the world organisation's condemnation of the outrage in Tehran. I wonder whether that was wise. Soviet missions abroad would have no special immunity from crimes such as that with which the Bill is intended to deal.
Her Majesty's Government have to deal with more legitimate authorities in Iran than those that are being manipulated in Soviet interests. We note the gratitude that has been expressed by President Bani-Sadr to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and this country. I trust that dialogue is in process.
Finally, Britain is no enemy of the Islamic revival. Britain once ruled or protected millions of Muslims. In the post-imperial phase, she should not be too insular to study the good that is in Islam.
The Christian West should acknowledge part, at least, of the Islamic criticism of Western civilisation. The Christian West understands, as does Islam, that the answer to Marxism is not more materialism. Whatever the House decides tonight, for Iran the consequence of Soviet imperial patronage is apparent in the Horn of Africa, South Yemen and Afghanistan.
I hope that the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) will forgive me if I do not take up his remarks. I shall refrain from doing so to save the time of the House.
I shall speak briefly on what has not been referred to in great depth so far, namely, the effects of the Bill. I speak from a constituency point of view because I have many constituents who may be grievously affected by the Bill.
The Minister of State expressed sympathy with the plight of the hostages. I echo those sentiments, and I know that many of my colleagues do so. However, many of us are also concerned about the peace of the world, because we see the policies of President Carter being increasingly pursued and hard-pressed by the policies of Ronald Reagan. The Bill should also be seen in those terms.
I hope that when the Minister replies he will make it clear that tonight is the night when we decide the issue. The Minister of State referred to various Orders in Council. He carefully concealed the fact that we can debate such orders only after they have been implemented. In other words, once the Bill is enacted the Government have their enabling power. It is only to continue the sanctions and to keep them in force that we need have a debate in the House. I hope that Ministers will make it crystal clear that this is where the debate must take place.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State said that orders will have to be laid before the House before the orders can translate themselves into specific action against specific products. It is extremely difficult to give notice that specific action is to be taken without undermining the whole policy. The, House has the power within 28 days of rejecting the order. It will have the power to have the last word on the order, but it will not be able to have advance notice of the order for the obvious administrative reasons that I have given.
The hon. Gentleman is confirming what I feared. If the Bill is enacted, we shall have given the Government their enabling powers. It is only after the Bill's enactment that we shall know what the Government intend to do with it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not try to mislead the House on that score. The other thing—[Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not continue with personal references. We are dealing with a serious issue.
The Minister of State referred to the need by 17 May to make decisive progress on the release of the hostages. I only hope that all our other trading partners who become parties to the agreement are hurrying legislation through their respective Chambers to make similar provision for sanctions to operate in their countries.
It has been said that it is not the Government's deliberate intention to let trade be delivered into the hands of our trading partners. Many of my hon. Friends fear that we could be caught in that way. It is well known that many of our trading partners, as we have seen from events elsewhere, are expert sanction breakers. I hope that the Government will realise that, although they may want to play fair and may want to get a Bill on the statute book and to implement sanctions, that may not be, and certainly has not been, the attitude of many of our major trading partners.
If the real issue is the need to secure the release of the hostages, why do Ministers spend so much time emphasising that we have to exercise substantial influence in the Alliance? Is that what it is all about? Is it about exercising substantial influence in the Alliance, or is it about the release of the hostages? Many of my hon. Friends feel that the introduction of a Bill of this sort at this moment will have precisely the opposite effect and that it could provide a stimulating rallying call, once the sanctions are applied, for those who are in power in Iran.
Hon. Members may ask, if the Bill deals only with future contracts, why so many Labour Members are concerned. However, even present contracts have to be renewed. The Government did not mention renewal of contracts. The Minister said that he would deal with the matter but then carefully avoided it. We fear that, even if the Bill is not brought fully into operation, the French will still use it as an excuse to switch a valuable contract from this country to France. That is why we find it difficult to support the Bill.
The company that I am concerned about was previously called Chrysler and is now called Talbot. Last year's United Kingdom trade with Iran totalled approximately £340 million. The revenue from the Talbot contract with Iran was £150 million. That one contract represents half the United Kingdom trade in Iran, and many of us, particularly in the Coventry area, are concerned about that significant contract.
The Minister of State perhaps gave the impression that sanctions would take a little time to work through and their effect on industry may be leisurely. That is not so. Immediately sanctions are declared, at least 1,600 workers in the Talbot works at Stoke will be told that their jobs are in jeopardy and will probably have to go. At least 2,000 workers in the Coventry area will suffer the same fate. I recognise that we are dealing with a future contract situation, but if sanctions are made to apply to other contracts that could be the immediate effect.
Will my hon. Friend also bear in mind that the cars sent to Iran from Coventry go via Newport docks? The Bill could have a devastating effect on the future of an area already under major attack as a result of steel closures.
My hon. Friend makes an apposite point. His constituents are also involved. When other hon Members study the effects of sanctions, they will realise that their constituents will be similarly affected.
The Minister will doubtless say that we have only to worry about future contracts, but I am worried about the renewal of present contracts. We have not heard anything about that. The hon. Gentleman said that there is provision in other legislation to introduce the sanctions that we fear. The immediate effect of introducing such sanctions will be that the jobs of 4,000 workers in Coventry are immediately threatened.
I do not want to deal with all ramifications for this company of sanctions, save to say that 25 per cent. of the revenue of Talbot United Kingdom comes from that contract. It is well known that the French, who almost totally own the company, have said that they will not continue to bale out its losses.
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that Talbot has sent letters to its suppliers saying that, if its contract with Iran is interfered with, it will stop taking supplies forthwith? The matter is therefore of great concern to other hon. Members.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that helpful information. About 350 suppliers will be immediately at risk, because that is the number of suppliers for the Talbot Stoke engine power train complex. If that means that the French parent company has to consider its attitude to reinvesting in Linwood and the further supplies of cars through Ryton, we might be talking about the possibility, not of 4,000 jobs being in jeopardy but of some 19,000 in the whole of Talbot United Kingdom. On top of that, there are all the other consequent jobs in component and engineering supplies—
|Division No. 289]||AYES||[10 p.m.|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)|
|Alexander, Richard||Gray, Hamish||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Greenway, Harry||Parris, Matthew|
|Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Grylls, Michael||Pawsey, James|
|Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)||Gummer, John Selwyn||Percival, Sir Ian|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'il)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Best, Keith||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Hampson, Dr Keith||Renton, Tim|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hannam, John||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Blackburn, John||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Blaker, Peter||Hawksley, Warren||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Body, Richard||Heddle, John||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)||Henderson, Barry||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Bright, Graham||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Rossi, Hugh|
|Brinton, Tim||Hill, James||Royle, Sir Anthony|
|Brittan, Leon||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Holland, Philip (Carlton)||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Hooson, Tom||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Brotherton, Michael||Hordern, Peter||Shersby, Michael|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Howells, Geraint||Silvester, Fred|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Sims, Roger|
|Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Buck, Antony||Hurd, Hon Douglas||Speller, Tony|
|Budgen, Nick||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Jessel, Toby||Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)|
|Butcher, John||Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Squire, Robin|
|Canavan, Dennis||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Stainton, Keith|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Lamont, Norman||Stanley, John|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)||Latham, Michael||Steen, Anthony|
|Chalker, Mrs. Lynda||Lawrence, Ivan||Stevens, Martin|
|Chapman, Sydney||Lee, John||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)|
|Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)|
|Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Cockeram, Eric||Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Colvin, Michael||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Costain, A. P.||Lyell, Nicholas||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret|
|Cranborne, Viscount||McCrindle, Robert||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)|
|Crouch, David||Macfarlane, Neil||Thompson, Donald|
|Cryer, Bob||MacGregor, John||Thorne, Neil (llford South)|
|Dean, Paul (North Somerset)||McQuarrie, Albert||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Madel, David||Trippier, David|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Major, John||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Dover, Denshore||Marland, Paul||Viggers, Peter|
|Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||Marlow, Tony||Waddington, David|
|Dunnett, Jack||Marten, Neil (Banbury)||Wakeham, John|
|Durant, Tony||Mather, Carol||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Eggar, Timothy||Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Walker, Rt Hon Peter (Worcester)|
|Elliott, Sir William||Mellor, David||Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Mills, lain (Meriden)||Waller, Gary|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Ward, John|
|Faith, Mrs Sheila||Moate, Roger||Warren, Kenneth|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Montgomery, Fergus||Watson, John|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)||Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)|
|Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)||Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)||Wheeler, John|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Mudd, David||Wickenden, Keith|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Murphy, Christopher|
|Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)|
|Forman, Nigel||Myles, David||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Needham, Richard||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Fox, Marcus||Neubert, Michael||Wolfson, Mark|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Newton, Tony|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Normanton, Tom|
|Goodhew, Victor||Onslow, Cranley||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Page, John (Harrow, West)||Mr. Robert Boscawen and|
|Gorst, John||Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham||Mr. John Cope.|
|Anderson, Donald||Dobson, Frank||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Huckfield, Les|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)||Hughes, Roy (Newport)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Golding, John||Lamond, James|
|Crowther, J. S.||Haynes, Frank||Leighton, Ronald|
|McElhone, Frank||Rooker, J. W||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Skinner, Dennis||Winnick, David|
|McNamara, Kevin||Springs, Leslie||Woodall, Alec|
|Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Stallard, A. W.||Young, David (Bolton East)|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester South)||Stoddart, David|
|Meacher, Michael||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride)||Tilley, John||Mr. Andrew F. Bennett and|
|Park, George||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)||Mr. Stan Thorne.|