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Orders of the Day — Iran (Temporary Powers) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:35 pm on 12th May 1980.

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Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Oxon Mid 6:35 pm, 12th May 1980

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.