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Orders of the Day — Iran (Temporary Powers) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:42 pm on 12th May 1980.

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Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Tower Hamlets Stepney and Poplar 7:42 pm, 12th May 1980

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.