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Orders of the Day — Iran (Temporary Powers) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:06 pm on 12th May 1980.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Grant Mr Anthony Grant , Harrow Central 8:06 pm, 12th May 1980

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.